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Athlete of the Issue: Elechi Egwuekwe

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What makes an athlete truly exceptional? Sure, it comes down to your physical strength and reflexes, but the best athletes have a mastery of the intangibles: drive, determination, and grit. Elechi Egwuekwe ’18 is the perfect example of such an athlete. Finishing up her fourth year on the girls varsity tennis team, Elechi has managed to not only demonstrate her physical prowess in the sport, but also to prove her mental toughness, which has paved the way for her many successes.

 

Elechi’s career in tennis began at the early age of four, when most toddlers were still learning their basic motor skills. The first in her family to play the sport, she was introduced by one of her friends when he brought her along to a “Bring Your Friend to Tennis Day” at a community center. But in short order she would outstrip her friend’s tennis ability. “Now I play and he doesn’t,” she jokes.

 

In the spring of Elechi’s third form year, she earned the second spot on the girls varsity tennis ladder. Making a varsity sport as a freshman is difficult enough; to place so highly as a freshman is rarer still. Elechi is now in her fourth year on the team, and has consistently played towards the top of the ladder. In the most recent season, Elechi has lost only one singles and one doubles set, which proves that her time spent playing tennis pays off on the court.

 

Elechi speculates that her love of tennis may have begun when she hit her first ball over the net “and not in the parking lot.” She attributes her strength in tennis to the fact that she’s “gotten a grasp on what I need to know mentally when playing the game,” and says that the sport goes beyond just the physical aspect.

 

Although she has been a captain for both her fifth and sixth form years, Elechi feels like this year has been one where she truly led: “Last year, being a fifth form captain didn’t feel like a thing, it just felt like I was on the team. This year there’s new kids who look up to me as a leader… for them, the first team that they’ll remember is a team where I’m captain.”

 

Elechi isn’t the only captain of the team, however. She shares her role with Catherine Qiao ’18 and Sangah Lee ’18. With these two by her side as co-captains, Elechi feels that tennis has become more of a team sport for her: “I had to be a team player a lot sooner than I realized it. Tennis is an individual sport, but here it’s a team sport.”

 

This year, the team consists of a multitude of veteran players, with most members having played for three or four years. She hopes that all the girls, with their experience and current 6-2 record, can secure their title of being in the top three in New England. “We have a really good chance, we’re a really strong team. I’m not worried about us at all.”

Elechi’s teammates have nothing but beaming reviews of her, both as a player and a role model. Fellow co-captain Sangah Lee ’18 says: “It always amazes me to see how mature and positive she is on and off the court. She has been by not only my side, but also the whole team’s through our lowest and highest moments. Our team would not be so fancy if it weren’t for her.” Tennis player Marianne Lu ’19 adds that Elechi “really brings the team together both on and off the court,” and is “very spirited.”

 

Elechi’s coach, science teacher Dave Prockop, has mentored Elechi in tennis for all four years and has seen her style progress: “She’s always been a hardworking player, and a tenacious player, but she’s grown much more competitive.” He adds, “She really has grown into a much tougher opponent, even for some of the very best players in New England.” Outside of standard gameplay, Coach Prockop believes that the reason Elechi has been captain for two years is that “she’s great about being in touch with and aware of all her teammates, all the time.”

 

Elechi hopes to continue playing tennis for a long time, even though she won’t play in college. Perhaps more important than her skill at tennis, though, is her mental fortitude. “Her game is built around her determination,” says Mr. Prockop. With the grit and drive of Elechi, it would be difficult indeed to lose.

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