Josephine Huynh sat down next to her tennis racquet and winced as she stretched out her right foot. Her coach and team mom hovered over her. She’d just finished a set against a hard-swinging right-hander on Richmond’s Salesian High School girls-tennis team.
“I’m the one that gets the most injuries on the team, sadly,” said Huynh, a 17-year-old senior on Richmond High School’s girls-tennis team. Huynh has been around tennis her whole life, but it is her first year competing.
After operating for three years as a co-ed tennis team with boys and girls competing against all-boy teams, there were enough players this year to form an all-girl Richmond High School tennis squad.
“I believe that this is the first time we’ve had a women’s team in a long time,” coach Tyler Chuck said. “I think it’s cool to be pioneering some new ground, providing these opportunities, especially for women.”
Chuck, 23, graduated from UCLA and worked in the UCLA tennis team’s marketing department before coming to Richmond High two years ago for what he said is a more fulfilling career as a special education teacher. He said tennis provides a great opportunity for the ten girls on the team.
“It’s a safe spot for them to be after school and it’s a safe community of girls and teammates, and really a family,” Chuck said. “I think that you learn a lot of things about being polite in tennis. They learn a lot about etiquette.”
He said that, in contrast to some wealthier children who received private tennis lessons growing up elsewhere, many girls on the team have overcome hardships in their lives on the road.
“They’re all incredible girls,” and they’re all succeeding academically, he said. “[They’re] coming from broken homes, spots [where they’re] not treated with as much love at home and not really seeing home as a safe place. Each one of these girls has just a beautiful story about how they’ve overcome a lot to be a member of this team and this community.”
Many of the girls played on the co-ed team during his first year as coach, so Chuck has watched them grow and learn as players.
“A lot of them were beginners to start and are now taking full swings and hitting the ball really well,” he said. “It’s fun to see that growth happen on so many different levels.”
Many of the girls said the sport provides an important way to relax.
“All of us are seniors and we’ve been overwhelmed with college stuff,” Evelina Stewart, 16, said. “We come after school and we’re done with writing personal statements and getting letters of recommendation. We come [to practice] and we hita couple of balls and it works. Every thing is better.”
“In tennis, you take your time,” team captain Preciosa Roberts, 17, said. “I love the calmness.”
The Thursday afternoon match against Salesian is its fifth match of the season, andthe team has yet to score a victory. But that doesn’t seem to matter.
“We’re always with our friends and our coach is super awesome,” Celeste Ramirez, 17, said.
Injuries have plagued the team.
“I have a very terrible habit of pushing myself too far,” Huynh said. She had to sit out a few matches this season because of a painful cramped leg muscle. “I couldn’t even finish the game, and that was just really bad for me because it was the first game of the season.”
Two other players were absent with unnamed injuries. Senior Elizabeth “Ebey” Alonzo was “super happy” to be playing after sitting out for a week because of a strain in her right shoulder incurred while working on her serve.
“I hate serving,” Alonzo said. “Making it inside that box is horrible.”
Following a scoreless loss, Alonzo again complained of pain in her serving shoulder. But the pain did not get her down.
“I’m sure I’m going to be fine,” she said. “It was really fun.”
The team gathered around a picnic table in between the tennis courts, scarfed down post-match cookies and sports drinks, smiled, laughed and shared how they each fared.
“I think the fact that we didn’t have practice for a nearly full week [and] we’re all pretty rusty, that we did pretty good,” Roberts said.
Huynh managed to post the team’s best score for the day, winning two games despite ultimately losing the match. She said she didn’t properly break in her shoes before the match, which caused the discomfort she felt.
“They were pretty tight while I played,” Huynh said. “But I felt good. I didn’t damage anything and I made shots that I’ve never made before. I did really well today.”
The team joined hands and led a cheer for the Salesian girls before calling it a day.