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North Meck senior revitalizes tennis team, inspires and teaches others

Elizabeth Chen spends a lot of her time serving as captain of the girls tennis and basketball teams at North Mecklenburg High. When she’s not on the courts, you’ll find her tutoring middle schoolers or whipping up a new cookie recipe. Or playing the piano. Or visiting the elderly.

Elizabeth, 17, is making the most of her last year of high school, and she got it off to a roaring start by revitalizing the school’s varsity women’s tennis team.

A lot of North Mecklenburg players shifted to Hough High when it opened, said North Mecklenburg principal Matt Hayes.

Elizabeth felt like her team was struggling, especially when they needed to search for a new coach this summer for the fall season. “It basically was like starting over,” Hayes said.

Elizabeth wanted that same spirit and edge on the tennis court that she felt in hoops. This summer, with the new coach, she helped plan uniforms, pre-season training, schedules and more. (Elizabeth is also the manager for the men’s tennis team.)

This season, she ended up coaching and encouraging her teammates more than she played. “It didn’t really matter to me because I really like teaching my team,” she said. “I found I love teaching.”

A big lesson Elizabeth had to learn was the importance of motivating her teammates. She brought chalk to every practice to draw ladders for drills and would “run around them ... and yell at them to keep going” while spraying them with a misting fan.

She also learned the importance of staying positive. “You can’t ever stop looking for and perpetuating optimism,” she said. When there were bad days. “I’d pick myself up and not let anything touch me. You have to do as you preach.”

The team competed well in the conference tournament, and is “tons better,” Hayes said.

Many passions

Elizabeth is also a star student, and her basketball coach, Jennifer Baker, said academics always come first for her.

“For many games, she’ll be working on homework before games,” Baker said. And, as a captain, she’s a team player.

“Elizabeth is a natural-born leader,” she said. “She’s also always willing to help other teammates, be it tutoring, rides home, making sure they have everything they need.”

Off the athletic courts, Elizabeth meets with middle-schoolers on the J.M. Alexander Science Olympiad team every Sunday. She trains them for the spring competition in anatomy, her favorite subject at school. For her International Baccalaureate service project, she gave middle school athletes first aid kits and training.

Elizabeth has played the piano since the first grade and has recently been playing tunes from “Wicked” and John Mayer. She’s dusting off her favorite rendition of “Carol of the Bells” for Christmas.

And in addition to all of that, she loves to bake with her friends: Her new-found favorite cookie recipe involves lots of powdered sugar, butter and chocolate chips. She tries out new recipes with the residents of a retirement home she visits every other week, where she also calls bingo numbers. “They’ll tell me what they really feel” about the recipes, she said, laughing.

Elizabeth said she’d like to be a doctor someday, either in sports medicine or orthopedics. She currently works as an optical lab assistant.

“She is very mature, well beyond her years,” Hayes said. “She’ll do phenomenal things.”

Ruebens: 704-358-5294; Twitter: @lruebens
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