|Slater's Slant: Opportunity Serves Her Well|
By Chuck Slater
"I think that a great opportunity has opened up for me," says Briarcliff tennis star Olivia Lacy-Thompson.
She is talking about the opportunity to represent Section 1 at the state championships through the ongoing sectional tournament at Veterans Park in Greenburgh. It is an opportunity only partly of her own making.
Each section sends three girls to the state singles competition in November - the finalists in the section tournament and the winner of the match between the semifinal losers. Traditionally, Section 1 does very well.
Last year, Ossining's Jamie Loeb breezed to the state title. Suffern's Arielle Shuren came in fourth and Horace Greeley's Rosemary Li also did quite well. Li then graduated but Loeb won as just a sophomore and Shuren was merely a freshman, so it seemed the rest of Section 1 might be scrambling for one state spot.
But Loeb, so dominant that high-school play was hardly a challenge, opted for correspondence school and more time for outside tennis tournaments. Shuren, while staying in school, went for a concentration on the tougher, outside competition, too. Suddenly Section 1 was wide open. Lacy-Thompson, a 5-9 power hitter, couldn't help but see the implication.
"Jamie and Arielle almost certainly would have gone again," she said. "Yeah, I like the opportunity. I'm going to do my best to seize it."
This season, her best has resulted in an overwhelming regular season where she seldom lost games in a match except for a straight-set loss to the talented Ilyssa Schneidman of Ardsley. "I wasn't as focused as I usually am," the Briarcliff ace said of her lone loss. "And she's well above the other girls I'd been facing. I'd like to play her again."
Perhaps she will. But - and here's where the opportunity comes into play - the two defections to outside tennis mean not one but three spots are available in Section 1. Granted, the field has been a bit more crowded this tournament season because a lot of girls who might otherwise team up in doubles feel they have a chance for a spot. Still, it's easy to see Lacy-Thompson advancing to state play.
She won a match at sectionals last year before falling in the quarterfinals and is considerably improved, partly by way of, of all places, Spain.
"I'm pretty much committed to tennis year-round," said the junior who learned the sport young "because it's a tradition in my father's family" but she didn't take it seriously until three years ago when she joined Chris Lewit's tennis academy.
"I started working with Chris, seeing progress and taking my game to a new level," she said. "It became something I loved. I saw possibilities for it with college."
She not only took it to a new level but also to Spain where for two weeks this summer she was one of eight top pupils who Lewit brought to the Bruguera Tennis Academy there.
"Her backhand is much more consistent now and her forehand is a big weapon," Lewit said. "Her service has really blossomed, and she's developed a very good twist second serve. She's made a big jump in technique. Plus she's got lots of desire and she's one of my hardest workers."
\ The blossoming serve has s lot of variety and the two-hand backhand is no longer a just-keep-the-ball-in-play stroke. She has added even more topspin to the ever more powerful forehand. Nor is the net any longer foreign territory for Lacy-Thompson. Plus an ingrained tenacity has led to many love sets.
It all added up to the top seeding in Conference 3.
"I'm a lot better than last year," she evaluates. "A lot more experienced and I've practiced a lot. I'm learning how to construct a point."
"A marked improvement," assesses Briarcliff tennis coach John Brooks. "She's even hitting the ball harder.
"Making it to States? She's got a good chance. She's really playing very well."
Another local playing very well is sophomore Melanie Laub, who lost only eight regular-season games and was undefeated along with her John Jay team. "You can clearly see the improvement," said Indians coach Denise Upham.
Nor can one overlook Brewster's Ashley Monaco, who lost to Lacy-Thompson at sectionals last season but has enjoyed a big year.
Another help to the Briarcliff junior is the level of competition she finds at family matches. Lacy-Thompson's dad, Charles, continues to be a strong and challenging opponent.
"I started beating dad for the first time last year," she said, "but it isn't easy. We're both very competitive."