As a senior athlete during the most uncertain year of her life, Leah Walter played every tennis match like it would be the last of her high school career at Unionville.
Walter’s final season was the culmination of four years of success on the tennis team, and it was capped by her third Ches-Mont singles title and a second trip to the district semifinals.
For those reasons, and more, Unionville senior Leah Walter is the 2020 Daily Local News All-Area Girls Tennis Player of the Year.
“If COVID-19 had prematurely cancelled the season, that would be it,” Walter said. “I made sure to go out on the court and play my heart out every time. I think that mindset really helped me progress to that semifinal match.”
Walter finished the regular season undefeated. Her Unionville tennis tenure came to an end after falling to Spring-Ford’s Mia Matriccino in the District 1 Class 3A semifinals.
Typically, all four district semifinalists, including Walter, would have advanced to states. But because of COVID-19, only the two district finalists were invited.
“She was doggedly determined to not go down,” said Unionville head coach Janet Johnston. “None of us are perfect, but she handles adversity well, as well as triumph well. She’s very gracious in wins and losses.”
Before her senior season, Walter earned DLN All-Area first team honors three years in a row, won the Ches-Mont League singles title twice, and reached the quarterfinals of the PIAA singles tournament.
“She’s such a well-rounded person and player,” Johnston said. “She always strives to do her best, she’s never satisfied just getting by.”
Walter was 8 years old when she first picked up a tennis racquet.
“I love the competition, and how it’s such a unique sport,” Walter said. “It always felt special to me.”
Walter’s leadership on and off the court — she was chosen as the team’s co-captain — has been one of the driving forces of Unionville’s recent success.
“Tennis players aren’t usually, ‘Ra-ra, let’s go smack ’em down’ type of people,” Johnston said. “She leads by example, she leads by her quality of play. Her dedication to working hard. Those sort of things rub off. I think they look up to her as a leader, as a good person, and I don’t think any of them would want to disappoint her.”
Despite the uncertainty that 2020 has caused, Walter found that tennis provided a sense of relief this season, especially after long days of online classes.
“Zooms back to back get tiring,” Walter said. We were all able to get outside and play the sport we love. It was a great outlet.”
Walter’s tennis career stretches far outside the walls of Unionville High School. She is constantly putting herself in the position to grow as a player, entering United States Tennis Association and platform tennis tournaments all year-round.
Platform tennis, also known as paddle tennis, is a similar game with different racquets and a smaller court. Walter is a two-time junior. national champion and founder of Unionville’s very own paddle tennis club.
“It goes hand-in-hand with my tennis game,” Walter said. “I feel like it helps my volley skills and reflects in tennis. I love it.”
When she’s not playing tennis — whatever form it might be — Walter has a well-rounded list of interests and achievements.
In addition to her already robust on-court resume, Walter is a semifinalist for the National Merit Scholarship, the treasurer of Unionville’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, and a volunteer with The First Tee of Delaware, an organization that helps underserved kids through golf.
Looking ahead, Walter is considering the opportunity to continue her tennis career at the collegiate level, but has not yet committed to a school. For now, she’s confident she won’t be putting down the racquet any time soon.
“I’m really going to miss playing for Unionville,” Walter said. “I’m going to miss that camaraderie, but I’m excited for what college has to offer. Tennis is a lifelong sport, paddle tennis too. I see myself playing forever.”