Senior Samantha Becker has learned from the best in her ascension on the Canterbury tennis team.
After playing behind big-hitting teammates Leah Barnes and Kyra Foster the last three years, Becker has moved up from No. 2 singles to No. 1 for the Cavaliers.
“I think it's more pressure being No. 1 but when you win, there's that much more satisfaction from it,” she said. “It feels a lot more serious. Being the leader of my team, it definitely helps being up at No. 1. I feel like they look up to me a little bit more.”
Becker moved up to the top position after Foster left Canterbury to pursue an opportunity at the IMG Academy in Florida.
“She's always been a big opponent of mine,” Becker said. “I remember playing her in one of our first tournaments. We've definitely grown up playing together, so being on the team together was super fun but competing against her was definitely not my favorite thing. We were always each other's hitting partners (in practice) so having her gone is really sad. I don't have my hitting partner.”
The discrepancy in the level of competition between No. 1 and No. 2 singles can be sizable and noticeable with the various playing styles.
“(No. 2) was much more laid back, a lot more defensive. You weren't so worried about people coming in and hitting winners off you,” Becker said. “A lot of schools don't have specifically trained tennis players. A lot of them are athletes who have played other sports and just happened to pick up tennis along the way, so No. 1 is where they put kids like me who have been playing their entire lives. Very few schools are going to have that at No. 2. Playing girls that I've been playing against my entire life on No. 1 is like what I'm facing now.”
Hitting against teammates like Barnes and Foster, both of whom made the individual state finals during their careers, braced Becker for the competition she's now facing on a regular basis.
“She's an aggressive player, hits aggressive balls and pushes people off the court,” coach Jerry Gerig said. “At No. 1, she definitely sees a lot of aggressive players. I think she's enjoying that. She doesn't necessarily love the slow backboard players, so she's getting to play more of the style of players that she likes to play at No. 1, the bigger hitters.
“She's always enjoyed playing stronger hitters. I think it's playing to her strength that way. I don't think it's a hard adjustment. Over the years she's worked out with big hitters with Leah and Kyra and now she actually gets to do that in matches, as well.”
Becker, who has been playing tennis since the age of 4, is looking to enjoy her final season since academics will be her focus when she attends Butler in the fall.
“As of right now, if I do (play), I'd have to do it as a walk-on because it's too late,” she said. “I had coaches reach out to me but they weren't the academic school that I wanted to go to. I'm more focused on my academics at this point. I want to be an orthodontist. It's a lot of school, so I want to put more energy into my academics.”
Throughout her years in the sport, Becker's found ways to deal with the stress she faces during high-pressure matches.
“A lot of it is on the court,” she said. “You have to take a lot more time in between points. At this point, I just tell myself, 'It's only a match. At the end of the day, it's not going to change my life.' So I just try not to make it such a big deal in my head.”