With an even-keeled, businesslike approach, Notre Dame has emerged once again this season as the area’s top girls tennis team.
With some of the top individual Division I players in the area, eighth-year coach Kim Pacella insists her players’ focus on team goals has helped them maximize their potential.
The Eagles (15-2) have six juniors and a sophomore in their regular starting lineup. The three singles players each won their brackets at the Three Rivers Athletic Conference tournament.
“It’s really a true team,” Pacella said. “When they’re not playing they’re supporting their teammates. They enjoy what they’re doing, and they enjoy each other. They have fun at practice, and that makes practice so much easier.
“Tennis is an individual sport, but these girls relish the team concept. They love the state team tournament, and that’s what bonds them together. They put that above the goals of qualifying as an individual for the state tournament.”
Teagan McNamara, a junor and the third of three sisters to play for Pacella at Notre Dame, won the TRAC’s No. 1 singles title.
“Teagan is very solid from the baseline,” Pacella said. “She’s not going to give you any easy points, and she’s an athlete. She chases everything down. She’s just steady.”
Added McNamara, who is 20-3: “We’re really close, and that helps, and we do it for each other. We all encourage each other and cheer each other on and try to make each other better.”
Notre Dame will have a district final against Northview, St. Ursula or Central Catholic in the Ohio Tennis Coaches Association’s state tournament. The Northview-St. Ursula winner will meet Central in a district semifinal, and that winner faces Notre Dame.
The Eagles’ only losses came against top-10 state ranked teams — No. 8 Rocky River Magnificat and No. 9 Columbus Watterson.
Alicia Nahhas (20-3), a sophomore, took the TRAC’s No. 2 singles title.
“Alicia is naturally more aggressive than Teagan,” Pacella said. “Teagan is steadier and is working on being aggressive, where Alicia is physically stronger and can hit the ball harder.
“She probably needs to work on being a little more steady, but she can hit the heck out of the ball.”
Nahhas sees tennis as both an individual and team pursuit.
“I like that tennis is more of an individual sport and, when you mess up, it’s on you,” Nahhas said. “I like being competitive and pushing myself.
“With the team, off the court we have a bond, so when we’re on the court, it just puts that bond together. We all are competing and striving for the same goal. That brings us together and helps us win.”
McNamara and Nahhas will pair together as doubles team for the Division I sectional Oct. 3-5 at Jermain Park. They will be seeded No. 1, while the top singles seed will be their junior teammate, Nina Eid (20-3), who was the TRAC’s No. 3 singles champion.
“Personally, I just love getting the motivation to play,” Eid said of her passion for the sport. “Even watching Grand Slam matches on TV gives me so much inspiration to play. I look forward to working to get better.
“Being on the team and playing is my favorite part of the whole school year. Being with the team is just such a great feeling, and so is working to accomplish the goals we’ve set.”
Pacella has been impressed with Eid’s team focus.
“Nina is little bit of a mesh between [McNamara and Nahhas],” Pacella said. “She’s not quite as powerful as Alicia, but she can be steady when she needs to.
“Third singles is a hard spot to play, and she has adapted well. She’s able to adjust her game to who she’s playing. She knows her role, accepts her role, and goes at it 100 percent.”
Also capturing a TRAC championship was Notre Dame’s No. 2 doubles team of junior twin sisters Xan and Sheridan Miller, who are 15-3.
The Eagles’ No. 1 doubles team of juniors Jordan Cady and Lindsay Humbles (18-5) placed third in the TRAC tournament, helping Notre Dame repeat its team championship.
Notre Dame went 7-0 during head-to-head TRAC regular-season matches.
Rounding out the roster are senior team captains Olivia Savage and Nikita Ajmera, and junior Ashley Tanner, who will also participate in sectional competition.
Last fall, McNamara and Nahhas advanced through the sectional and district to reach the state tournament.
They beat a team from North Canton Hoover in the first round, before falling to the eventual state runners-up from Dublin Jerome in the quarterfinals.
McNamara’s oldest sister, Megan, who graduated from Notre Dame in 2011, reached the D-I state singles tournament as a junior in 2009. She now plays at Wright State University.
Middle sister Kerigan McNamara played for the Eagles last season and is playing this year at Otterbein University.
This year’s top three players — McNamara, Nahhas, and Eid — have all been members of Laurel Hill Swim and Tennis Club since their preteen years, and each plans on playing tennis in college.
McNamara and Nahhas, whom Pacella calls her “two No. 1 players,” swapped their respective No. 1 and No. 2 spots from last year. McNamara had been the No. 1 player as a freshman before Nahhas earned the slot last fall. They have different styles on the court, but are basically a toss-up when playing head-to-head, she said.
Both play competitively year round in United States Tennis Association events. McNamara is rated No. 120 in the USTA’s Midwest Sectional 16-and-under rankings, while Nahhas is rated No. 157.
For Pacella, trying to keep Notre Dame on top is a longstanding mission.
A 1987 ND graduate, she placed fourth at state as a senior in 1986, the same year her teammate, Erica Adams, won the championship.
Adams and Pacella also helped Notre Dame win its first OTCA state team title that year.
Notre Dame has reached the state team semifinals five straight years, but have ended fourth each time.
“One of my strengths is that I get kids to really enjoy tennis,” Pacella said. “I make it fun for them, especially at a young age. When you’re coaching, you’ve got to be flexible.
“Some kids really want to go after it, and some kids just want to hits balls for a little bit and have fun. You have to adjust to each student."