A Season That Left Me as Deflated as Our Tennis Balls

The George Washington University tennis courts where the GDS men’s team has practiced this spring. Photo by Luke Flyer.

My teammates on the women’s tennis team and I were excited when we heard that GDS athletics would resume for competitive seasons this spring. After a year during which the pandemic had caused us to lose so many foundational experiences of adolescence, including sports, we were eager for our season in the month before spring break. The chance to play together and compete for GDS once again created a sense of normalcy for us in an otherwise unusual world. But, after walking into the season unsure of what to expect, we soon discovered it would be far from normal.

Since GDS does not have on-campus tennis courts, the school would, in a normal season, rent courts from American University for us to practice. This school year, due to COVID, the women’s tennis team, which normally plays in the fall, had a season from Feb. 22 to Mar. 19 that Athletic Director David Gillespie described in an email to students as “sports training and potential competition.” For most of that period, D.C. had in place restrictions that barred high school sports teams from traveling off campus. Without access to tennis courts, GDS women’s tennis had to practice in the lower/middle school gym.

We were pleased to have the opportunity, but practices were difficult. We had to construct nets before playing. The gym’s hardwood floors, atypical for playing tennis, required us to use low-pressure balls that wouldn’t bounce too high. The space was so small that accidentally hitting our rackets against the wall while playing became a usual part of practice. None of these conditions, while understandable given the circumstances, were conducive to productive training in advance of a competition.

And a significant portion of our practice time wasn’t even devoted to tennis, but instead to conditioning work unspecific to the sport we love and had signed up to play.

“There wasn’t a lot of transparency from the school about [the practice conditions],” said junior Addie Lowenstein, a member of the women’s tennis team. “I kind of wanted them to be more forthcoming about why and what the situation would be.

“Originally we were obviously very frustrated with the way that the school had handled it,” she continued. “We were just frustrated that there hadn’t been more of an attempt to find some middle ground.” Perhaps we could have spent more time on the lower/middle school sport court or used nets more similar to those of a real tennis court. (Athletic Director David Gillespie said the sport court was at the coaches’ disposal.)

Gillespie told me he wished the team could have practiced on real tennis courts. “But we had to follow the school, Department of Health and D.C.’s guidance, up until the spring. And now things are starting to shift,” he said in mid-April.

Things started to shift, though, before our season ended. D.C.’s restrictions on high school athletics transportation were lifted on Mar. 17, opening the possibility that we could’ve practiced on courts before our match on Mar. 19, if only for two days.

At the end of the season, we went into our match against St. Andrew’s Episcopal School feeling ill-equipped to compete and ultimately won only one match to their seven. 

When I stepped onto the court for my doubles match and hit the first ball, it didn’t go far enough. Over the course of the month, I had gotten used to hitting low-pressure balls, and the sudden switch back to regular ones made a drastic difference in my playing. Sophomore Mila Noshirvani and I lost our match by a score of 6–2 games. But the score was not the issue. I felt out of practice and not properly conditioned to play on a real court. After the game, I could see the disappointment in my teammates, too. We all gathered in a circle and many of my teammates started to question what would’ve—or could’ve—happened had we been able to access proper resources.

Now that the restrictions are lifted, the men’s tennis team is practicing on George Washington University’s courts each week and playing regular matches against other schools. It’s great that they have that opportunity—one that my team couldn’t have this year. 

Many of us ended our season in March with our morale sunk. With the potential for a truly competitive season in the fall, my teammates and I hope that we will get the chance to have the full GDS athletics experience. 

Malvika Reddy ’23