Bryn Mawr – One of the most difficult jobs a tennis coach faces each season is to find the best way to bring a collection of players together and highlight the team aspect of a sport that is primarily viewed as individualistic.
That is exactly the task facing Baldwin chool head coach Jeff Sacks, who is entering his 11th season at the helm of a Baldwin tennis program that has seen its share of success including Inter-Ac titles in 2010 and 2012 (shared with Agnes Irwin and Episcopal Academy).
With his team playing a format consisting of three singles matches and four doubles matches, Sacks knew as pre-season wound down that he would be faced with the challenge of creating the recipe for success which included evaluating “speed, volley, serve and compatibility in determining doubles teams,” according to Sacks.
“The best thing you can do when you’re playing on a high school tennis team that is looking to win or be very high in the Inter-Ac League is dismiss what you personally want and think about what is best for the team,” said Baldwin senior co-captain Arianna Hairston. “This year, we have very talented players and it’s imperative that they be great supporters to their fellow teammates. Coach Sacks knows what he is doing as a coach, and I think to win we just need to listen to the person with the most experience. My job as a captain is to remind everyone they are equally important to the success of the team and they need to maintain a positive attitude in order to be helpful to the team. We need everyone’s cooperation and support to be successful.”
Baldwin senior co-captain Alexa Bartels added, “From the first day of practice Coach Sacks told us all we should care about is that we are playing tennis for Baldwin and each win counts and you are winning at the spot you are playing and helping the team.”
The Polar Bears broke the ice early opening the season with a 4-0 start earning wins in each of their non-league matches thanks in large part to Emma Sass, Lauren Wang and Hairston combined with the addition of Francesca Douglas, who returns after spending last year studying and playing tennis abroad in Belgium and Torrie Smith who comes in as a freshman joining an experienced roster coming off a third place Inter-Ac finish.
“The quick start has been great,” said Sass. “We have been looking forward to this year because we knew we would have a deep team and it would mean a lot for us as seniors and the future of this team to do well.”
As Baldwin prepares for the upcoming Inter-Ac schedule and their quest for a league title, the key to success will be their ability to stay together as one unit and not individuals.
While the coaches, including JV coach Roni Sacks have delivered their message it will be up to the co-captains to serve as the bridge between me and the players,” said Jeff Sacks. “They organize work outs, fund raising and team bonding off the court which include the annual U.S. Open trip and a pre and post season BBQ.”
Hairston added, “I believe this team is as close as a team this size can get. Alexa Bartels and I lead varsity and JV warm ups together every practice. We do this so that everyone touches base with each other at the beginning of practice and everyone prepares for a practice together. We have an opening and closing party at the captains’ houses every year to kickoff and close the season with games and food for all the families.
“In our team Facebook group, we keep the girls updated on matches and activities, but the Facebook group is also a fun place for the girls to share what’s on their mind. Alexa and I are very big on doing as much as we can as a team. We do an activity similar to Secret Santa with both our JV and varsity teams where a girl picks another teammate’s name out of a hat and must get that person some sort of gift (a snack or encouraging note) every match day. We do this to give the girls something to look forward to and get involved in continuing a Baldwin tennis team tradition. We have an annual sleepover with the entire team at a teammate’s house.
“And while tennis can be a very individual sport, we mix everyone together in practices quite a lot. We are also planning a charity event to raise money for the Alzheimer’s Association, and the entire team will participate in that. We have a really great group of girls this year who get along very well, and we just try to capitalize on the already strong bonds within the team.”