Weddington High School tennis coach Mike Murphy said when he first saw Emily Figman play as a freshman, he never envisioned that she would crack the starting lineup.
Figman didn’t make the top six singles on the Weddington girls’ junior varsity tennis team as freshman. As a sophomore, she remained on the JV squad and played No. 2 and No. 3 singles. Figman continued to improve.
“I never got down on myself, because I felt like if I kept working hard that I would achieve my goals and make the varsity,” said Figman, who didn’t start playing tennis regularly until eighth grade. “I knew I had to practice harder and put in a lot more hours on the court. It wasn’t always easy, but I got a lot better.… That gave me a lot of confidence.”
Murphy says Figman has earned every bit of her success.
“Honestly, when Emily came out as a freshman, if we had been cutting players at the time, she probably would have been cut,” Murphy said. “But to her credit, she never gave in or gave up.… She has worked as hard anyone to improve her game, and earn her spot on this team. You can’t help but admire a player with her determination.”
Figman made the varsity team in 2014 as a junior. She surprised her coaches by knocking off several of her higher-ranked teammates in the tryouts.
Figman earned the No. 7 singles’ spot going into the season – one spot away from the starting lineup.
“I was really excited to finally make varsity,” Figman said. “It was great to feel like I was a bigger part of the team and I was contributing.… I really felt like all my hard work had paid off and I could only go up from there.”
Figman’s opportunity to play in the top singles came when then -sophomore Morgan Wetherbee had to miss time after having an appendectomy.
Figman’s first match was against unbeaten Myers Park, and she didn’t win. She remembers getting her first big win against Cuthbertson, when she came back from a set down to win a third-set tiebreaker.
Like Figman, the Weddington team (8-6 last year) showed its resilience all season. Despite missing No. 1 singles Heidi Swope and No. 3 singles Morgan Wetherbee for several matches, it tied for the Southern Carolina Conference title and made a run all the way to the 3A state semifinals.
No player personified their run more than Figman, who got several key wins, going 6-4 in 10 matches.
Figman isn’t going to overpower anyone with her serve or ground strokes, but her relentless hustle often gets to her opponents.
“What you love about Emily is that she is going to fight her opponent for every point,” Murphy said. “Most players have a big serve or forehand. Emily’s weapon is her quickness and ability to get to everything and get almost everything back. She often frustrates her opponents and forces them into making mistakes.”
Figman hopes to carry her momentum into her senior, where she has been named one of the four senior co-captains with teammates Charlotte Ulehla, Ashley Hinson and Jillian Paris.
The Weddington seniors hope to challenge for at least a share of their third straight conference title and make another postseason run.
No matter where Figman ends up in the Warriors’ lineup, Murphy says she will be a key player.
The 5-foot-4 senior has been working on her game all summer, training at both the Charlotte Swim and Racquet Club, where she helps teach lessons to younger players, and at Rolling Hills Country Club, where she takes lessons. Figman, 17, also regularly hits with younger sister Caroline, a sophomore at Weddington, who played for the JV team last season.
But Figman won’t take anything for granted.
“This is definitely the most important year I’ve had, because it’s my senior year and my last chance to help leave a mark on this team,” she said. “I’m going to do my best to contribute to the lineup, and be a leader. I want to show the younger girls that you constantly want to be working to improve and never give up on yourself.”
Jay Edwards is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.