South Charlotte

Athlete of the week: Sophomore holds No. 1 spot for Cougars tennis

Grace Deering doesn't have an offseason.

Whether the Charlotte Catholic sophomore is playing for the Cougars or in one of her 20 or so USTA junior circuit events, you will usually find Deering on a tennis court.

"I pretty much am playing tennis five to six days a week all year round," said Deering, who also trains under Quail Hollow Club professional David Yett. "It's definitely something I love to do, but it is also a lot of hard work."

Deering's hard work has already begun to pay off, as she is ranked No. 40 in the state in her age group and was as high as No. 20 a couple months ago.

Deering, 15, has also elevated herself to the No. 1 singles spot on the two-time defending 3A state champion Catholic tennis team after having played as the No. 4 as a freshman.

Deering earned the spot through a lot of hard work over the last year, but also some bad luck, when her teammate Maddie Wise, the No. 2 last and No. 1 to start this year, went down with a back injury.

"Grace has come so far in the last year as a player," Charlotte Catholic tennis coach Jo Cabana said. "She has accepted the No. 1 role and is not intimidated by it. She expects to win and believes in herself and her teammates."

Deering's father, John, played college tennis at Miami (Ohio). Her mom, Mary Kay, is also a regular on the tennis court with family and friends.

Even her younger brothers, Jack, 13, and Peter, 11, are into the game.

It is not unusual to see Grace and Mary Kay take on John and Jack or Peter in a family doubles match.

"Tennis definitely strengthens our bond as a family," said Deering, who has been playing since she was 9 years old. "Our common interest in the game always gives us something to talk about, do together and share as a group. It's kind of a family tradition."

Deering hopes to be a big part of the continued championship tradition with her other tennis family, Charlotte Catholic, by helping to lead them to their third straight state title in the next month.

Catholic has not only won the last two straight 3A state championships, but also five of the last nine titles since Cabana started at the school. The Cougars are 15-2 (4-0) on the year, winning 15 of their last 16 matches since losing their season opener to perennial private school power Providence Day.

Deering is 26-8 overall, 13-4 in both singles and doubles play. She has big wins over Charlotte Country Day's Molly Quillin and Myers Park's Emily Carpenter.

Deering has a lot help from her teammates, starting with classmate and doubles partner, Rachel Tomchin (No. 2 singles). Deering and Tomchin earned all-state honors as freshmen after advancing all the way to the 3A doubles state semifinals.

Catholic has also gotten big contributions from No. 3 junior Christine Kessel, her younger sister, freshman Audrey Kessel (No. 5), No. 4 junior Caroline Smith and No. 6 sophomore Bailey Thomas.

"We've had the same lineup pretty much all year and I think we have gotten better with every match," Cabana said. "Everything we've done has been to prepare for the last few weeks of the season."

The pressure to win nearly every match and eventually another state championship comes with the territory, said Deering.

"Winning state championships is just what is expected at Catholic and that puts a lot of pressure on us," Deering said. "But it is a good pressure to have, because it constantly motivates us to get better."

Now at the No. 1 spot on the team in both singles and doubles, Deering feels pressure to win and be a leader.

"Grace is the type of player that always thinks she can be better," Cabana said. "Being No. 1 is just another motivating force for her. Now, she wants to how much better she can be and that attitude definitely is contagious to the rest of our team."