The first time I saw Spencer play at 9 years old I thought to myself that she didn't really look all that good but every ball found its way in the court. Fast forward 13 years and she ends up being OSSA's most decorated female player in our history. That tells you how good of a talent evaluator I am (sigh)! But, it's true, every ball went in from when she was in the 10s through the 12s and all the way through to her collegiate career at University of Florida-- the kid doesn't miss much.
So, our challenge was how do you add to her already mentally tough demeanor and game without taking her too far away from her roots and what she naturally does well? Her personality is that of a wild competitor who will not leave the court without leaving every ounce of sweat and effort behind in that match-- any match she's playing. That creates a potential obstacle when you want to improve, however, because how the question becomes how much winning is the athlete willing to sacrifice while adding to their game? We knew that with her playing style it would require Spencer to be not only the fittest kid in the country but the most explosive in order to play the defense necessary to succeed against the bigger hitters. Much of those traits are God-given, of course, but she had to train herself to be explosive 100% of the time so her body could withstand match conditions-- all of that started on the practice court.
Spencer's personality also required us to have fun on the court because forcing her to conform to a typical training setting would get boring for her. If she loses focus on why she's on the court, it doesn't matter who the coach is because the environment wouldn't allow her best to come out in practice. What made all of these challenges so interesting is that I was a young coach finding my way in the profession and at the national and ITF tournaments she competed in during her early years. We were all experiencing these events and milestones for the first time together-- Spencer, her mom and myself. This is why these experiences-- all these "firsts" in junior tennis-- will never be duplicated.
This past year in 2019, I went to my 13th straight Easter Bowl... guess who I was there with for my 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th trips? I think back to all of the memories and certain matches come to me in an instant-- not the "big ones" you might expect either. There was the G16s Quarterfinals at Hard Courts where Spencer blew a set and 4-2 lead in the second set and found herself in a grueling 3rd set on the second stadium court. It was 4-3 and they were playing a marathon game with game points going back and forth and the match time was pushing 3 1/2 hours. On a huge break point, Spencer got pushed from one corner to the other when her opponent came in and set up a perfect put-away volley. And she executed it perfectly to the open court. Streaking across behind the baseline from about 10 feet back, Spencer hit an on-the-run backhand topspin lob that landed 6 inches in for a 5-3 lead and I jumped off the 3rd step in the corner of the court I was sitting on and screamed out, "YESSSSSS!" Four points later, she won the match and ended up finishing runner-up in Super National Hard Courts as a 15 year old.
With all the tennis memories-- and she had plenty-- I also think of our friendship over the years and how close I am to her family too. To see her and her 2 older sisters all grown up in the real world is such a cool thing. When you spend this many years around these players, more and more memories off the tennis court start to take over, especially as they start reaching lifetime milestones that have nothing to do with tennis. Spencer will always be original and she will always shine brightest when her family and friends need her the most.
2017 NCAA Champions