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Youth tennis players improve in tourney

NATCHEZ — Henry Harris took a small group of youth tennis players to a tournament in Vicksburg on June 26 and came back with two second place trophies in the singles division.
Harris said his players, Danielle Weir, Kelsey McNeal, Austin Heard and Kirdis Clark, finished with two second place awards and one third place and fourth place award at the DSA Vicksburg PRD Junior Tournament.
Though the quartet played well, they all agreed that there was one thing that kept them all away from the first place trophy — their mentality.
Danielle Weir said the nervousness hit her as soon as she arrived to the tournament, and it showed greatly in her first match.
“I lost terribly (1-6, 3-6), she was better because she has been playing tennis for a long time,” Weir said.
After getting off to a bad start, Weir said she knew something had to change if she wanted to succeed in the 12-year-old division.
“I had to brush it off and prepare for the next match, I knew I had to get serious,” Weir said.
Her second match was against her own teammate, Kelsey McNeal.
McNeal is just 10 years old playing in the 12-year-old division.
Before going head to head with teammate Weir, McNeal said she played confidently in her first-round matchup.
Playing in the older division proved to be different for McNeal, but she said this wasn’t a bad thing.
“In the 10s division we played with little red or yellow balls, but in the older division we played with regulation balls and that’s what I practice with, so it felt easier,” McNeal said.
McNeal said she felt she did OK in her first match, winning the first set and losing the next two. She said she lost because of her own errors.
“I was hitting hard, and the balls were going out of bounds. I had to get my head in the game, and I started to hit better,” she said.
But by the time she got her head together, it was too late to pull out a win.
Once McNeal and Weir met in the next round, things seemed easier for the two as they knew each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
McNeal finished the tournament in third place and Weir finished in fourth.
Austin Heard made it to the championship round of the tournament though he said he was immediately nervous.
In his first match, Heard said he learned a valuable lesson the hard way.
“My first match started good, I won the first set and lost the second,” Heard said. “(In the third), I was up by a lot but I got so relieved that I lost focus from the game and he came back. We had a tiebreaker and finally I won.”
It took several hours for Heard to finish the match, but Harris said one positive came out of it.
“Austin played five hours in his first match. He showed us how he can do in action, and he pulled it out,” Harris said.
In the championship game, Heard said he fell short of the victory because of his own nervousness. He said he couldn’t seem to get the ball over the net.
Heard said he learned that his mentality has to be stronger if he wants to get better.
“I can’t just sit there and lose focus of the game, I have to keep going,” he said. “I have to learn my opponent faster and try to have fun because I was getting too nervous.”
Kirdis Clark also came out in second place as she won both of her matches the first day.
She said she knew what she had to do in order to have the same success on day two.
“I had to keep attacking the net, keep the ball in play, run for every ball and don’t give up a point easily,” Clark said.
Clark said she continued to follow her own guidelines as she won her first match of the second day before heading to the championship game.
It was during that match when her winning mentality started to fade.
“I was scared because I saw the girl play before and I was saying in my head, ‘She’s good’,” Clark said. “From there, nothing went right.”
Though she didn’t win first place, Clark said she was happy to win a trophy.
Harris said, overall, he was happy with their performances.
“They did good, but I don’t tell them that so they won’t relax after a compliment. I want to see what’s going to happen in their second tournament, so we can see what we need to work on,” Harris said.
Harris will be taking the quartet plus several more players to Dallas for the National Junior Tennis and Learning program July 26-28.
Harris said it will feature some of the best junior tennis players in Dallas but he thinks his players can keep up in the heat.
“I think they’re ready for the sun out there in Dallas,” Harris said.