On the surface, tennis can appear to be a solitary sport. But for the All-Metro tennis players of the year, the community found through their passion has been the sport’s greatest gift to them.
Deep Run senior Olivia Wright and St. Christopher’s junior Will Thompson have won plenty of individual accolades. But they’ve cherished the relationships built through tennis above personal success.
“I just want to stress how important everyone around me has been during my whole tennis career at Deep Run,” said Wright, a three-time state doubles champion and the 2021 Region 5B singles winner.
“All the people on the team, in the tennis community, the coaches, have really helped me and made my experience so much better. I’m thankful for those people.”
Thompson, the No. 1 singles and doubles champion in the Prep League for the unbeaten, VISAA champion Saints, said the team environment at St. Christopher’s invigorated his game as a freshman.
“I think the team aspect of tennis just makes it so much more fun,” he said, adding that it feels as if everyone knows one another in the tennis community.
“I love tennis, but at times, traveling by yourself, sometimes it’s difficult to do. Being in a team environment helps me play so much better.”
Wright and Thompson played on the same junior team in their early teenage years. The former takes inspiration from immigrant parents who came to the United States chasing their athletic dreams, and the latter regularly confides in a relative with storied roots in the game.
Wright’s mother, Sofia, is a Swedish tennis player, and her father, Mervyn, is a Trinidadian soccer player. Both attended VCU and competed there in their respective sports.
Wright played both sports in her youth but committed to tennis upon entering high school. She described her game as aggressive, using her 6-foot-1 frame to come to the net and put pressure on opponents. A big serve is also a key weapon for Wright, who most enjoys doubles competition with her partner, freshman Rosalyn Kara.
Initial uncertainty surrounding the season left Wright grateful that she was able to compete in her senior year before heading to Providence College in Rhode Island. In particular, Wright would have missed one last ride with coach Maria Sorkin. The two share a close bond.
“When I came to high school, I formed a really strong relationship with her. She’s helped me in more ways than I can describe, not just on the tennis court but off the tennis court. She’s been there for me for anything that I need,” Wright said.
“I would definitely not be in the position I am right now if I didn’t have her as my coach. I’m really thankful that, through Deep Run tennis, I was able to form such a strong relationship with her.”
Her private coach, Pat Anderson, also has had a major influence on Wright’s game since she was quite young, she said. Though tournaments were hard to find during the pandemic, Wright used the free time to train and hit more often than before.
“With all my tennis friends being in the same situation, we were basically living at the tennis courts,” she said. “That’s all we did.”
Wright’s heroes are her parents, whose pursuit of their sports in a new country she admires, and Serena Williams, whom Wright idolizes for her larger impact on women’s sports.
Preparing to head to college is bittersweet, Wright said.
“I’m really excited to go to college and have this new experience, but being in this community and being with these people for such a long period of my time, it will definitely be sad once I leave all of them.,” she said.
“But I’m hoping this next chapter of my life will bring more new people and new communities that I will be a part of for a while.”
Thompson has a close relationship with his great uncle Bobby, a former University of Richmond player who coached at Notre Dame and Navy.
“If I ever go through a spell where I’m not playing my game or something, I always give him a call,” Thompson said. “He always has really good advice, and he’s really good at putting things in perspective for me.”
That guidance has helped Thompson achieve a remarkable streak — he hasn’t dropped an official singles or doubles match since eighth grade. He thinks about that every time he plays, particularly in big matches.
“It didn’t really get in my head too much. Sure, there are some times where if I’m in a close match it might be in the back of my head. I’ve just got to keep it going, I have one season left to keep it going,” he said excitedly.
“It motivates me a little bit, but at the same time it feels like added pressure.”
Thompson played a lot of sports as a child and committed to tennis around age 10. The sport opened doors for him, and as he began experiencing success in tournaments, he realized how much he loved it.
Thompson still is amid the college search. He competes at Richmond’s Westwood Club and credits much of his development to his coaches there.
Thompson’s favorite matches from his high school career are team state championships and key matches. He’s looking forward to college tennis a great deal because team camaraderie that his Saints have captured brings out in him the most passion for the sport. His doubles partner, Talman Ramsey, has been a close friend since preschool.
“The matches I remember the most are that matches that we all get really loud and excited,” he said.
“Being a team off the court helped us build team chemistry, and we became a really close team. It helped us be successful.”