It can be hard to keep the heat on from the competition when you’ve won every league tennis match except one in your entire high school history.
Senior Analy Jade Wight hasn’t even lost a game in her senior season.
But the two-time defending Sonoma County League champion and All-Empire first-team selection recognizes there is still room for improvement in her game.
She has helped her Tigers stay atop the SCL rankings this year, also remaining undefeated as a team.
With around a month into the season before the League and Sections tournament begins, Wight is working on his serves and volleys – and the mental aspects of the game.
“Hitting the ground has always been my strong suit,” Wight said this week. “I’m pretty aggressive at the baseline. I worked on my volleys and I don’t come to the net anymore.
His longtime trainer Rick Passero has been pushing Wight this season.
“She wins 6-0, 6-0 all the time,” he said. “Sometimes I have to tell him, ‘Practice serving and flying; you have this match. ‘ Otherwise, she can just sit down and hit the groundstroke, because the other kids will hit a few, and then they’ll miss.
It’s the story of the last four years, really.
Wight, who has been playing since the age of 5, is following in the footsteps of his two older siblings, his sister Pearl and his brother Nick. The two former Wights were also the best players. Pearl was a No.1 player in Analy, as was Nick, who went on to become a top player at Santa Rosa Junior College.
Jade said she started to love the game after her father built a pitch in their backyard for the kids to practice.
So, when she entered high school, she was already more experienced and stronger than most of her competitors.
Still, how does a new freshman fit into a squad with the top two returning players who were upper class students?
“The other girls knew her,” Passero said. “She was going to be the best player on the team in the first year, and potentially the best player in the league. So there was pressure on her. There was pressure on the juniors and seniors on my team who were playing # 1 and # 2 the year before, who were going to be knocked down by this little freshman.
But Passero has had honest talks with all of his players.
“It was really great,” he said, after avoiding potential landmines. “The senior girls took Jade under their wing and Jade was very humble about who she was. These things had to happen.
The coach said watching Wight mature as a teammate has been particularly rewarding.
“What’s been fun for me as a coach is that Jade has become one of those girls who lead and talk to other kids and take care of other kids on the team in the same way,” did he declare. “The progression of this aspect is my favorite – social development.”
Wight ended his first year unbeaten and lost in the league final.
In her second year, she lost her first game of the season to the Petaluma player who beat her in the SCL final.
“It was one of those times I got too mad and let him take over the game,” Wight said. “The next time we played them, I beat her.”
She won the SCL title and qualified for the NCS game, where she said she “did a lot better than I expected”.
She won her first match but was eliminated in the second round. Still, winning an NCS round as an SCL player was impressive, Passero said.
Wight’s junior year was once again flawless and she qualified for the league final for the third time.
It didn’t seem like his day.
“I got nervous,” she said. “I didn’t go out on the pitch with my best game.”
She won the first set, lost the second and lost 5-1 in the third. Defeat seemed imminent.
But she recovered her way and won in a 7-point tiebreaker.
“I was going so insecure. I was too stiff. I had to finish the game very carefully, without making any mistakes. I don’t usually play defensively.
She was again eliminated in the first round of the sections.
This year, she hopes to cross that line.
“She’s playing very consistently and intelligently,” Passero said. “She just hits her punches and doesn’t rush. Most of the time, she’s in charge.
Wight has also beefed up his mental game this season, he said. Win or lose, she doesn’t lose it emotionally.
“Whether she’s at the top or someone beats her, she often plays at her level,” he said. “So you don’t leave the field saying, ‘I missed all my shots today,’ you walk away saying, ‘This person beat me. “It’s okay. She recognizes it.
“It’s a level of maturity on her part, she’s a mature competitor for me.”
You can reach Lori A. Carter at 707-521-5470 or [email protected] On Twitter @loriacarter.