By DAVE THOMAS | La Mesa Courier
For a pair of Grossmont High girls tennis players, 2019 has been a year to remember.
The doubles duo of junior Helaena Calimlim and freshman Ashley Smith recorded a fantastic season for head coach Hillary Park.
In post-season action this month, the duo lost in a hard-fought match against a seeded La Jolla team (6-1, 4-6, 12-10) at the CIF Tournament. The last score was a tiebreaker in lieu of a third set. According to Park, “Ashley and Helaena played a great second set by attacking the net and staying calm and focused.”
Despite the loss at CIFs, the pair has much to be happy about this fall.
The two finished the season with a record of 18-11.
They did not play as a team together the whole season as Park started Calimlim off in singles, then with another teammate in doubles. Ashley started the season at the No. 3 spot in doubles, playing with a first-year varsity player.
“After about three weeks of matches, my assistant and I saw how consistently aggressive Ashley was at the net and sought to find her a stronger partner,” Park commented. “Helaena was our pick and the first time we put them together they swept, dropping only three games.”
According to Park, the duo is successful due to their aggression at net.
“Ashley is always looking to pick off a ball at net while Helaena sets her up in the back court with consistent ground strokes,” Park continued. “Helaena is tough at net as well and will come in on a short ball to attack the net. They both have good hands and are quick. Ashley has two hands on both sides of her groundstrokes, backhand and forehand, giving her a lot of power. They have always met tough competition head on and with no fear. They are both excellent competitors: they display good sportsmanship and are fair.”
At the team’s awards banquet on Nov. 13, Smith was awarded Rookie of the Year for the squad. Both girls were named to second team all-league for the Hills League.
La Mesa Courier recently caught up with the duo for an email interview.
How old were you when you began playing tennis and what has your experience been like playing for Grossmont High?
Calimlim: I began playing tennis when I was 12 years old, the beginning of my seventh grade year. My tennis experience at Grossmont High has been a fun and new experience every year because each year there are new players, therefore the atmosphere is different each year. Every year, I have fun and improve and learn new tennis skills that I use in my matches.
Smith: I began playing tennis at 8 years old. I have continued playing for a while and my time at Grossmont has only improved how I feel about the sport. Playing for my school has been an amazing experience, because I have met down-to-earth people and I have learned new skills on how to improve my game.
What has this season been like for you both as an individual and team member?
Calimlim: This season has been a challenge but also probably my best season in the three years here on the team. When I first started the season, I was a singles player but I had to stop playing for a couple weeks and stop playing singles the rest of the season due to a chest condition. This taught me how to be a supportive team member even when I was just watching on the sidelines. It also taught me as an individual to push through the bumps in the road and see the light at the end of the tunnel, which is getting back to myself before the condition and coming back better than ever.
Smith: As an individual player, this season has really been an eye-opener. I feel very confident as I walk out on the court and I feel like myself. I have had a great season and I continue to improve the more I play. As a team player, this season has been outstanding. I have met so many kind people who understand what being a team is all really about. My team makes me a better person.
What have been the keys to success as a doubles team?
Calimlim: I think the main key to success as a doubles team for Ashley and I is communication. Communication is key for a doubles team to do well because without talking to each other and strategizing the game plan beforehand, then the work and game flow wouldn’t work. Also, simple high-fives and words of advice and motivation is also a key to success as a doubles team because [not having] that little talk or handshake before the point can affect our work of flow and how we construct a point and set each other up. Before almost every point, Ashley and I either high-five or tell each other “you got this” or our motivational word, “butterfly”.
Smith: A key to the success as a doubles team with Helaena is our communication, whether it’s on or off the court. We make sure to keep each other pumped up and we make sure that we talk about what we can improve on or how we can win the next point in a game.
As one of the older girls on the team, how have you helped Ashley and some of the younger players?
Calimlim: I think as one of the older girls, it is important to show the younger girls who are new to the team that they are accepted and that we all care for each other. I remember when Señorita Park first paired Ashley and I to play a doubles match during tryouts and when I saw Ashley, she reminded me of freshman year me, and I knew that I wanted to make sure that she was accepted and welcomed into this team no matter what happens. I remember Ashley telling me that I was one of the first girls that first went up to her and was super nice and welcoming to her and what she said will always stay in my heart. So, just being there and making sure that the younger girls are welcomed and feel part of the team is something I will never stop doing until I graduate.
As one of the younger girls on the team, how have the older members helped you out this season?
Smith: As one of the younger players on the team, I feel the older members are like my older sisters. They are by my side and they are always supporting me. They lend me advice and talk with me about the upcoming competition and what I need to do in order to defeat my opponent.
— Dave Thomas is a San Diego-based sports writer. Re4ach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.