A Graceful Exit

Charlotte Catholic senior Grace Deering has had a racket in her hand since she was 9 years old. She’s barely found time to let go of it since in her journey to take the high school tennis scene by storm.

Catholic senior Grace Deering finished regular-season singles’ play 22-1, and looks to make run at the state title.

Catholic senior Grace Deering finished regular-season singles’ play 22-1, and looks to make run at the state title.

Deering has more than proved herself in doubles’ play, alongside doubles’ partner and fellow senior Rachel Tomchin, who holds the No. 2 singles’ seed on the Catholic team. During their freshmen year, the duo advanced all the way to the Class 3A state championship doubles’ semi-finals.

Deering and Tomchin clinched the Western Regional 3A championship last season before advancing to the state finals, where they faced Emma Yates and Heidi Swope, the power-duo from Weddington. The Catholic pair battled back from a 4-1 deficit in the first set to win 6-4. But Swope and Yates didn’t step down, and ultimately clinched the following two sets, 6-1, 6-3, to claim the state crown.

“Doubles is an entirely different experience,” Deering said. “But last year was great, going to states with Rachel, and I love playing with her. We’ve played together for so long now that we don’t really even need to communicate on the court. We just know what the other is doing.”

With her state finals experience, Deering now hopes to cap her successful career with a singles’ title.

Deering began at Catholic as a freshman holding the No. 4 seed. The promising star claimed the No. 1 seed as a sophomore and has occupied the top spot ever since.

At some schools with weaker tennis programs, an average player could get away with holding the No. 1 spot, but not at Catholic. The Catholic tennis program is intense, prestigious and one of the most highly regarded programs in the state year after year.

The girls at Catholic lay claim to four of the last six Class 3A state championships (2007, 2009, 2010, 2012) under coach Jo Cabana, who has helped orchestrate the Cougar dominance. In the last decade with Cabana as coach, the Cougars have only lost 37 matches while claiming more than four times as many wins.

And for the last four years, Deering has been an irreplaceable instrument to that success.

“I hate to lose,” Deering said, laughing.

The tennis aficionado certainly isn’t accustom to losing – she’s 22-1 on the season, only dropping one match to Providence Day’s Alexandra Lee, a testament to Deering’s ability as a tennis player.

“It was tough (losing to Lee),” Deering said. “But I beat her earlier in the year, so I think that made it a little easier, and she’s a tough player.”

Beginning this season after state-wide conference realignment, Catholic transitioned to the So. Meck 8 conference, putting them in the same Class 4A division as tennis powers Providence and Ardrey Kell, and making conference competition much more difficult. But under Deering’s leadership, the Cougars’ rose to the challenge and finished conference play with a 16-3 record.

Deering credits her success on the court to a dominant forehand, consistent serve and powerful mind game.

“I’m mentally tough,” she said. “If you aren’t, you can really end up beating yourself. So I’ve always focused on staying tough mentally.”

Her prowess on the Catholic court can largely be attributed to her year-long dedication to the sport. Aside from Cabana, Deering also trains with a private instructor and has competed in countless United States Tennis Association circuit tournaments since she began playing.

“Tennis has always been a year-round sport for me. There’s not an off season,” Deering said. “I hardly put my racket down.”

Along with her coaches, Deering’s father has played a huge role in developing her potential. John Deering competed at the collegiate level at Miami University (Ohio) and has used his talent to help spur his daughter toward success on the court.

“My dad sits there during each match, and never moves and never flinches,” Deering said. “By watching him, you can’t tell if I’m winning or losing. He’s been such a role model for me, and really is one of the best ‘tennis dads.’”

Despite her dedication to building a name for herself in tournament play, for Deering, it’s hard to compete with the thrill of playing on the competitive Catholic team.

“Nothing compares to playing on a high school team,” she said. “It’s just such a fun experience. I’ve really, really loved it.”

With the regular season complete and the conference tournament under way, Deering has certainly made her senior season one to remember.

On Oct. 8, Deering went into the tournament with the top singles’ seed. After breezing through opponents in her bracket, Deering showed up to face Olympic’s Nicole Spencer in the singles’ championship. Despite the pressure of having a championship title for her senior year on the line, Deering had no problem taking down Spencer with an effortless 6-0, 6-1 victory.

“Nicole is a really great player,” Deering said of her opponent. “I just really wanted it. She’s just a junior, too, so I think she will definitely have a shot at the title next year.”

Cabana said she couldn’t be more proud of Deering’s accomplishments during her senior season.

“She didn’t just win, she won by only giving up one game,” Cabana said. “It was a great win for Grace, and she definitely deserved it.”

Now, the tennis star will look to take on the regional tournament, which begins on Oct. 18, in hopes of qualifying for states and possibly adding an individual singles’ title this year.

“I’m going to go as far as I can, and just keep pushing through,” she said. “Playing at the 4A level, I’ll be taking on some of the best tennis players in the state, so it’s definitely going to be tough. I don’t want to put any added pressure on myself, but I think I’m ready for it.”

Cabana is confident that Deering has what it takes to make a run at the state title, despite the tough competition.

“She’s always looking to get better,” Cabana said. “She comes back each year better than before. I always think, ‘Wow, there is no way she could get any better,’ but she always does. She always improves and wants to work on her game.”

As Deering prepares to make a run at the individual state singles’ title, she’ll also be crucial in leading the Cougars to another team state championship.

“We definitely want to go all the way,” Deering said, of the possibility of bringing another dual team crown back to Catholic. “We are a strong team this year and I think it could happen.”

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