Sophomore Shweta Pai is stronger and quicker, her coaches say, for her second trip to the state tournament.
Shweta Pai is playing some of her best tennis ever.
For that matter, so are her Maumee Valley Country Day teammates Elyssa Pesin and Amrita Padda.
They've been difficult for opponents to deal with all season. They expect that to remain the case when they play in the Division II state tournament at Ohio State today and tomorrow.
“They've worked hard to get to the level they're at,” Maumee Valley coach Lorell Anderson II said. “They're really competitive. They should go down there and represent themselves and their school really well.”
Pai, a sophomore, is making her second straight trip to the state tournament after claiming a district championship a week ago. She will face Columbus Wellington's Lisa Werhan in a first-round match today.
Pesin and Padda, Maumee Valley's top doubles team, are also competing in the state tournament for the second year in a row. They will play Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy's Jillian Ducro and Shaden Dowiatt in the first round.
Pai and Pesin/Padda returned from that first trip to state last fall basically just pleased about the experience of playing among the state's best. However, Laurie Madrazo, who has shared the coaching duties at Maumee Valley with Anderson the past two seasons, says that the three are out to gain much more than just good memories this year.
“Last year it was exciting for them,” Madrazo said. “This year they want to do something at state. They're much more committed to playing tennis this year than last year. They've got goals for themselves.”
Ultimately, they're out to become No. 1.
And they're not the only Division II players from northwest Ohio who qualified for this weekend.
Ottawa Hills' Natalie Day and Sheena Dasani both will compete in singles - Day earned a trip to state by finishing second in the district, while Dasani placed third.
Day will face New Albany's Amela Smailbegovie in the first round, and Dasani is pitted against Wheelersburg's Allison Day.
However, no one appears more ready to contend for a state title than Pai, who plays an aggressive style that has a way of wearing down opponents. Pai, the only sophomore on Maumee Valley's roster, has added more to her game since reaching the state tournament last fall.
Off-season training has made her physically stronger and quicker than a year ago. The results have produced an 8-1 regular-season record before going undefeated up to this stage in the postseason.
“She trained a lot harder over the summer, and the extra conditioning has made a difference,” Anderson said.
With another year's experience, Pai has also become mentally stronger.
“She's much more confident this year,” Madrazo said. “She's much more focused. Not only did she want to get to state this year, she wants to win it.”
Padda and Pesin weren't doubles partners during the regular season. Padda, a junior, played No. 2 singles; Pesin, a senior, made up one-half of the team's No. 1 doubles team that also included freshman Anita Dewan.
A decision to pair Padda and Pesin during the postseason came about primarily because the duo performed well together a year ago.
“They definitely wanted another chance to get back to state,” Madrazo said.
Pai, Padda and Christine Commons, a junior, will compete in singles matches. Pesin and Dewan will play No. 1 doubles, and junior Rebecca Ascher and freshman Jennifer Pesin make up the No. 2 doubles team. Jennifer is Elyssa's sister.