Most of the time, whether it’s during the high school season or at a U.S. Tennis Association tournament, when Urbana High junior Sophie Geernaert steps onto the tennis court, the person on the other side of the net is of comparable age. So, when she found herself matched up against some players of an older generation during this year’s third Frederick Tennis summer tournament series—mixed doubles (June 18-23), men’s and women’s doubles (July 9-14) and men’s and women’s singles (Aug. 6-11)—held at Baker Park, there was a brief moment of underestimation followed by a valuable learning experience.
“You’re like, ‘Oh, they won’t be able to move too well,’ but then they do and they hit hard and they’re consistent and it’s definitely a shock sometimes when you’re expecting one thing,” Geernaert said. “It’s so great to see all the generations out there and see their different styles.”
Geernaert, who played No. 1 singles for the Hawks this spring and finished third at the county championship, reached the semifinals of the women’s singles competition where she fell to the eventual champion, 2014 Urbana High graduate Jen Shenk. It was the second Frederick Tennis women’s singles title in three years for Shenk, who recently graduated from Virginia Tech, where she served as the women’s vice president of the Hokies’ club tennis team.
Immediately after the match, Geernaert asked Luke Grimshaw, a 1997 Thomas Johnson graduate who played four years of men’s tennis at the University of Connecticut and founded Frederick Tennis three years ago, for Shenk’s number in the hopes of finding a new practice partner. And Shenk, who agreed with Geernaert that there is much to learn from older and more experienced players—such as point construction and composure—was more than happy to provide it.
“I was so happy Sophie asked for my number and was looking to hit,” Shenk said. “I was in that position once, and now that I’m older, I still hope to be in touch with (the high school players) and be a mentor if there’s anything I can help them with.”
Shenk added that it was nice to see a solid core of Urbana High players at the summer tournament series—including Kevin Li, who won the county tournament as a freshman in the spring; Sophie Nielsen, who won the Region I mixed doubles title during the high school season; and Kevin Lige, who was Region I boys’ doubles finalist—all supporting each other during matches and watching and cheering on other members of the community together as well.
Connecting people within the game, providing opportunities for tennis players within the region to play in fun, yet competitive tournaments without having to travel and incur the accompanying costs, and helping to grow the sport from a grass-roots level is what led Grimshaw to form Frederick Tennis and take on the organization of a summer tennis tournament series. Frederick Tennis also offers spring and fall ladders with three different ability-based flights, promoting more community interaction and match play.
Urbana High perennially dominates the Frederick County tennis scene but even the Hawks struggle to match up against neighboring Montgomery County at the state level. A main reason is that most of even the top high school players in Frederick County do not play tennis year-round. Proximity to indoor facilities and USTA tournaments likely plays a role, Grimshaw said. Which is why the Frederick Tennis tournaments were not USTA-sanctioned—no membership costs required. Through the summer tournament series, many high school players were able to stay engaged with the sport far beyond the spring season—and develop prosperous relationships with other players of all ages with whom they can practice during the offseason.
“It’s so great to have this over the summer, and it’s a community type thing playing against everyone in the county,” Shenk said. “It’s nice for the high school players to play different players who are not in high school and it’s a great thing for the community, the fact that it’s all ages. It’s a good way to keep playing for fun and to still be competitive. All the tennis fans come out, it’s just a great environment to be around.”
Visit www.fredericktennis.com for more information about the fall ladder.