Essay Project 2021: Girls Varsity Tennis - the Past, the Present, and the Future
By Alyssa Jack
Teamwork is highly valued within the Portland Girls Varsity tennis team, and as Andrew Carnegie said, "[t]eamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision. The ability to direct individual accomplishments toward organizational objectives. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results." Tennis is a game of individual achievements, but the number of wins by the team members must be greater than the other teams to decide the victor. A player not only plays for themselves but their teammates as well. In order to fully understand the Girls Varsity team, one must look at the history and how the community has benefited from their success.
Former Coach Jim Neibling started the tennis club back in 1990 where it started as a co-ed club then divided into separate boys and girls clubs. The school put in new courts that now serve as the six backcourts that remain today. Back then, the club had minimal resources compared to today’s 10 courts and a storage shed that holds the team’s equipment. In a personal interview with Neibling, he stated, “...we had 5-gallon buckets of used balls donated to us by Court 1 that I stored in the trunk of my car. It was a pretty humble beginning for our program!” Since they were only considered a club, the team was unable to participate in regional tournaments or state tournaments until 1996 when they were considered an official Varsity team.
Over the years Portland has achieved high success with the tennis program, and they have had many great achievements; however, it had not started like this in the beginning. Within the last few years, it has become expected for Portland to qualify for states, but Neibling remarked, that it was not until after 2011 that they annually went to states. He recalled that they had only qualified as a team three times up until then. However, there had been many players that qualified as individuals. For example, Alaina Griffin qualified for All-State all four years of her high school career and was the only individual to do so (Portland Tennis Records). Griffin played from 1998-2001 and Neibling stated that Griffin was one of, if not the best, players Portland had ever produced.
The Girls 2019 Varsity season was full of remarkable achievements. At the CAAC White League tournament, the team placed first with all but one flight finishing in first place. Later that year, the team swept regionals with all eight flights coming in first place for the first time in Portland history. Current Girls Varsity Coach, Crystal Lowe, commented, “[i]t goes to show how hard our players work to maintain our success!” Within the ladies state tournament, they placed 8th in the state according Ja to the Portland Beacon. They also had a doubles team win second place in the state tournament and earned the award “State Runner-Ups.” According to Neibling, all of the accomplishments that the girls have obtained over time helped put Portland on the map and is known by anyone who follows high school tennis.
The team has been supported by the Portland community in ways such as the fundraiser that the Wagon Wheel allows the team to hold there. This fundraiser has helped raise money to put towards utilities like resurfacing the courts and the new pergolas that help shade the bleachers. The Portland Community has also raised individuals that have great integrity and take pride in the close-knit community. Neibling remarked that much of the tennis team’s success is because of those qualities. He went on to say that it would have been much harder to build a strong foundation for the team had there not been good-quality individuals.
The tennis team has also contributed to Portland by having returning players help the program after they had graduated. Many current and past players volunteered to help the summer tennis program that has been held since 1991. This program has helped many young students find their love for tennis. The current girls’ assistant Varsity Coach, Lauren Manzini-Schott, is one of those graduated players who returned to Portland. She commented that she had been involved in Portland tennis ever since she was young and was excited to come back and be involved with the program once again to help the ladies grow as both people and players.
The Ladies encountered obstacles that they had to overcome in both the past and present, but as said in “For Every Hill I’ve Had to Climb” by L. E. Thayer:
For every hill I've had to climb,
For every stone that bruised my feet,
For all the blood and sweat and grime,
For blinding storms and burning heat
My heart sings but a grateful song—
These were the things that made me strong! (1-6)
The team had to persevere through many struggles as the club started out such as the lack of resources and having just started up. They also had to go through many defeats before being considered a formidable opponent and it caused them to strive for higher achievements as they grew. The Varsity team from the past compared to the current team is like night and day. However, one thing remains the same, their determination to reach new heights. There will always be future challenges for the team to face, but for now, their head Coach, Crystal Lowe, is just looking forward to being on the court with her players and seeing the hard work that they put towards the upcoming season.
This essay is part of a writing project by students in Chandra Polasek’s ELA class at Portland High School. The project asked students to focus on elements of their own town while getting students engaged with the community. The essays were written with the intention of being published in The Portland Beacon.