Determination, confidence and hard work can go a long way toward an athlete’s success.
Local tennis stars Mitchell Piedra of the Houston Academy and Katie Nelson of the Enterprise are examples.
Behind those qualities, Piedra, a sophomore, finished last season 16-1 in singles No. 1 and 16-1 in doubles No. 1 with teammate Andrew Ayodeji for Houston Academy, while Nelson, a junior , amassed a combined 20-4. record at No. 1 in singles and with partner Anna Warren at No. 1 in doubles for EHS Girls.
For their success, Piedra and Nelson were selected Dothan Eagle Tennis Players of the Year for the 2022 high school season. Piedra was chosen as the boys’ winner and Nelson was chosen as the female player of the year.
It’s Piedra second in a row Dothan Eagle the Female Player of the Year award and the first for Nelson, although she became the fourth consecutive Enterprise girl to win it, after Riley Stewart last year and Mikaela Grubb (2018, 2019). No prizes were awarded in 2020 due to the COVID-19 shutdown.
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Piedra reaches an undefeated regular season bid
A year after winning a state title but suffering a loss on the season, Piedra was determined to go undefeated in the regular season and repeat as the state champion this year. He accomplished the first goal, winning all 13 games, but fell short of the second after a first-round State loss in a third-set tiebreaker 10-7.
“I wanted to repeat what I did last year,” Piedra said. “I wanted to have an undefeated season this year and I did, but I couldn’t win the state title again. It was disappointing, but I was still excited about what I did. made during the season.
Houston Academy head coach Brian Hart said Piedra was masterful on the court in helping the Raiders win the Class 1A-3A state title.
“He was dominant,” Hart said.
In fact, Hart felt like his best tennis player was even better this year than he was in his first year at the state title.
“He definitely has more power this year,” Hart said. “He got stronger and he hit the ball with more pace. He can really spank some winners with the power he has. He can dominate people. He also worked on his serve and he has more kicking and spinning than last year.
Piedra attributed the increased power to his off-season conditioning program, which included weight lifting.
The Raider standout said he has several areas of focus for the season.
“Technically, I wanted to improve my shots – my forehand, my backhand and my serves – and improve them,” Piedra said. “Also, I wanted to continue to play better and continue to be a better version of myself on the pitch and have more confidence in myself.”
Hart said confidence showed on the court and his teammates understood that.
“He exudes confidence and that reflects on everyone,” Hart said.
“He wasn’t necessarily a vocal leader even though he’s improving in that area, but the guys on the team kind of feed off of his confidence. The way he conducts himself on the court, everyone else are nourished by it or are inspired by it.
Piedra was also happy with the doubles game with Ayodeji. The two lost once in the regular season and reached the state semifinals before losing to eventual state champions Montgomery Catholic.
“I think we’ve played well all season,” Piedra said. “We had tougher competition over the course of the season, section and state, so it was tougher for us. We still played well. It was fun.”
Although he just finished his second season, Piedra is already working on his conditioning for next year, which he expects to be even tougher.
“We are moving to 4A-5A next year so it will be more difficult, but I will train even harder this summer to improve,” Piedra said. “My teammates will continue to work and improve and hopefully we can repeat what we have done and win another state title.”
Piedra said he won the Dothan Eagle award for the second consecutive year was just as special as winning the first.
“It’s just as exciting as last time,” Piedra said. “I kept playing hard and working hard in the offseason and it paid off.”
Nelson achieves improvement goal
After an admittedly disappointing second season, Enterprise’s Katie Nelson was determined to improve as a junior.
“I had a desire to work harder (this offseason),” Nelson said. “I knew I wanted to do better because I wasn’t happy with the way I was playing (in second year), so I kept working hard.”
The improvement in play was immediately apparent when Nelson moved from the No. 3 position in EHS to the No. 1 spot in singles after offseason work.
“She was very determined,” Enterprise head coach Mary Evelyn Jordan said. “She works hard in tennis and in what she does. She was able to climb the tennis ladder with her challenge matches when she was working really hard in the offseason. It showed in the challenge matches.
Jordan noticed several improved traits from Nelson just after the offseason.
“She gained more confidence in her shots and became more aggressive in her game,” Jordan said. “She also improved her ball placement skills during the offseason, which gave her an edge over other players.”
The hard work and confidence also showed in the results as Nelson racked up the wins, finishing second in the section behind eventual state champion Auburn’s Claire Bosman and winning a first-round game at State. against Paige Evans of Fairhope, 6-2. , 7-5. She then lost in the semifinals to Cindy Jaing of Vestavia Hills.
Nelson credited the improvement to working on tennis strokes on a backboard at Fort Rucker during the offseason until she got tired.
“I used a backboard wall and it helped me improve my shots, worked on the angles, and also worked on my serves,” Nelson said, adding that she also improved her a lot. backhand shot, getting more power in the shots.
Overall, Nelson was happy with her season, feeling she had accomplished several goals.
“I wanted to be able to make the first round at the state and I managed to do that. I wanted to impact other people and show them that tennis is fun and I feel like I did that too,” Nelson said.
On the court, Nelson is a constant whirlwind of movement, Jordan said.
“She chases every ball and never gives up no matter the score and plays aggressively when she needs to,” Jordan said. “She can reach just about any punch that is thrown and is able to put it away and take control of the point. She has good ball placement and knows where to place shots.
Nelson was in his sixth year of tennis, first starting at the local YMCA. She credits watching professional tennis for developing her interest in the sport.
“I used to watch tennis matches, professionals like Roger Federer,” Nelson said. “It was exciting to watch his matches.”
Now she has a player of the year award similar to five-time ATP player of the year Federer.
“Honestly, it’s an honor,” Nelson said after winning the Dothan Eagle player of the year award. “I never got something like this and it’s great to know that I worked hard for it and was able to get something like this.”