OJR’s Lee goes forward by taking a step back, becomes two-time Mercury Player of the Year

To take a step forward, Meredith Lee needed to take a step back.

Coming off a junior season where she won the Pioneer Athletic Conference singles championship, was the District 1-AAA singles runner-up and reached the second round of the PIAA Championships, most would think the Owen J. Roberts senior would get even more serious about her tennis in preparation for her final scholastic season.

Yet from Lee’s perspective, too much of a good thing can become a bad thing.

“We were going to practice five times a week and I reached a point where I needed to step back from it. I felt like, ‘This is too much for me to deal with along with school and everything,’” Lee said of her preparations for her senior year. “I still had motivation to keep practicing and each time try my best, but we would do less practices and it ended up for my benefit.”

It’s hard to argue otherwise.

Lee capped her stellar scholastic career at Owen J. Roberts with a second consecutive PAC singles championship, another runner-up finish in District 1 and took a step forward at the PIAA Championships by reaching the semifinals, all after leading the Wildcats’ team to a share of the PAC regular season championship.

Of all the successes, the now two-time Mercury All-Area Player of the Year may take the most pride in being a part of the OJR team’s elevation.

“(My most lasting impression will be) our team winning PACs – or tying, but we consider it a win. We can do that,” Lee said with a laugh. “We’ve been very hopeful the last four years and each year we got closer to winning it.”

OJR finished the PAC regular season 9-1, tied with Methacton and Spring-Ford, which ultimately claimed the league’s district berth through tiebreaker matches. That didn’t take the shine off the Wildcats placing themselves on the level of the league’s traditional top teams, which seemed like a long way away a few years earlier.

“States and districts, it’s very important, but that’s set up like any regular tournament that I could play out of school,” Lee said. “I don’t have the opportunity to play on a team often so it’s really nice to be able to be a part of a winning team.”

Always next to her, playing No. 2 singles for the Wildcats, was younger sister Elaina, who was unbeaten in PAC matches and went on to place fifth in the league singles tournament.

“I really like that we got to play doubles together this year,” Meredith said. “We hadn’t done that before in high school tennis before. We never fight on the court and we complement each other. Our mindsets complement one another.”

Lee says she felt more pressure as a junior with college coaches watching her compete at states, something she was freed of this past fall after she’d already committed to attend Division II Wingate University in North Carolina.

Much like her tennis game, her college decision was unique and decisive.

“It was kind of by chance. I want to major in pharmacy and my mom saw about a pharmacy open house and tour of the graduate school at Wingate and we kind of just went. We talked to the coach a week in advance saying we were coming down and he gave us a tour of the rest of the campus and I met another girl on the team and I really liked it.

“A couple months later, I came back and hit with the team and got to spend some time with them. I called him up within two weeks and said, ‘This is where I want to go. I want to be a part of your team.’”

With a roster that features players from Italy, Croatia, Venezuela and Colombia beyond the U.S., Lee is excited to get a broader world view.

“The team is mostly international girls, so that’s super fun. Both the boys and girls teams have a number of foreign players and I think it’s cool being exposed to different people and cultures,” she said. “When I stayed for the weekend, the Italians cooked everyone pasta and pesto sauce and it felt like, ‘I could get used to this.’”

Lee got used to winning the PAC singles crown, her second straight coming without dropping a set. She defeated Spring-Ford sophomore Tori Alexander, 6-2, 6-1 in the final on Oct. 1.

At districts, she reached the medal round for a third straight year, making the final again with a 6-2, 6-2 win over West Chester Henderson’s Emma Clark. It set up a match with close friend, Payton Bradley of Downingtown West, a meeting Bradley prevailed in, 6-4, 6-4.

In her third consecutive trip to Hershey for the PIAA Championships, Lee won two rounds for the second time – she reached the semifinals as a sophomore – by dispatching Morgan Bender, of District 10’s Hickory, 6-0, 6-0, and District 3 champion Sammi Snyder, of Exeter, 6-0, 6-3.

On nearly the biggest stage against Norwin’s District 7 champion Maria Santilli in the semifinals, it served as a culmination of Lee’s efforts. Santilli, the eventual champion, gained the victory, 6-2, 6-3, but not without Lee playing what she considers one of the best two matches of her high school career.

“We had a pretty incredible match. I was really feeling my game. She beat me, but that happens in a good match,” Lee said. “It was something I was scared of forever, so many people watching, I’m playing Maria – Maria is a really great competitor – and I had pressure on me, that with a win I would have made the final,” Lee said. “I just played so well through it, I really couldn’t have been disappointed.”

That stands to reason though. It seems Lee always has a knack for keeping things in perspective.

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