Hellier goes after `her day' on court

Tennis: The Broadneck senior, who demolishes county competitors, was runnerup at the state level last spring. But she figures improvements in her `mental game' could get her to the top.

April 11, 1999|By Glenn P. Graham | Glenn P. Graham,SUN STAFF

Broadneck tennis coach Phoebe Kelly was asked for a word that best described her standout, No. 1 singles player, Jennifer Hellier.

After some thought, "consistency" was the first adjective to come out. A close second would have to be "dominating."

Hellier, a senior with relentless ground strokes from the baseline her trademark and an ever-improving game at the net, has overwhelmed county competition and just about everyone else the past two springs.

The two-time Anne Arundel County Player of the Year won 24 straight matches last season before falling to Randallstown's Leslie Harvey in the state girls final. The year before, she went 22-1 and took third at states, her only setback coming against eventual champ Katie Dougherty of Centennial.

Third place as a sophomore, second place as a junior -- Hellier is looking to take that one final step before going on to Rutgers University on a full tennis scholarship starting in the fall.

"I've improved each year, and I'm just trying to go out and get first this year," said Hellier. "Last year, my mental game was lacking a little bit. I kind of got down on myself, and [Harvey] was just playing really well. Hopefully, this year, it will be my day."

When it is Hellier's day -- many more times than not -- she says her forehand is on, and she's also attacking the net to mix the pace. Which gives her a well-rounded game that's tough to beat.

Associated with the U.S. Tennis Association since 1991, Hellier ranked ninth last year among Mid-Atlantic 18-and-under girls, one spot higher than Harvey and fourth best in Maryland.

"Jennifer has taken all the necessary steps to promote the level of expertise she needs [to win a state title]," said Kelly. "In her sophomore and junior years, she emphasized and worked on the mechanics, the endurance, the mental toughness and the styles of play that she would encounter.

"Now, in her senior year, she has experience under her belt, more confidence in herself. and she's able to play her game and force people to adjust to her, instead of her adjusting to them."

At 4, when others were picking up their first crayons, Hellier was swinging a tennis racket. Her father is a tennis pro, and the game came easily to her, but she insists the key all along has been "practice, practice, practice."

Hellier plays year-round, practicing four or five times a week, along with three days of conditioning. And always with a smile.

"Jennifer just loves the game," said Kelly. "For her, it's not work. It's just every time the racket is in her hand, she loves every minute of it. You can see it when she's out there."

Most who watch her play are amazed at how much power comes from the slender 5-7, 115-pound team captain who also can chase down everything sent her way.

Jens Beck, a German exchange student who plays singles for Broadneck's boys, got more than a look when he was hitting with her in practice earlier this spring.

"Her ball has so much power, you just wouldn't expect it from a girl of her size," he said. "And she's precise. If she wants it in the right corner, it's in the right corner. Then she'll look for the left corner, and it's in the left corner. That's when you got to run."

What Hellier enjoys most in tennis is the mental part of the game, which will play big in whether she can come away with the elusive state title this season.

"It's so very important," she said. "In practice, we go over mental situations where we're down 40-love and try to come back. Being put in those situations helps the mental part of the game."

Pub Date: 4/11/99

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