Avon High’s Kendall Held can bury a slam on an opponent as well as any young tennis player in central Connecticut.
To gain All-NCCC status as a freshman attests to her talents on the court, but blending those talents into a role that’s so conducive to team chemistry is what makes her so unique and valuable to the program.
Held’s intangible assets aren’t lost on Falcons coach Joel Ziff.
“What sets Kendall apart is she came in as a very good player, but didn’t have an arrogant attitude,” said Ziff, who amassed a 112-5 record over his seven years, but is leaving the post to pursue other tennis interests.
“She worked as hard as she could. She started off quiet. The rest of the team appreciated that she led by example. As the season went on, she got vocal and positive. She was usually the first one [at practice and matches] and the last one out.”
Held’s mindset is driven by her love for the game and her desire to help others. Ziff noted that five of the 14 players on the roster had never played competitive tennis before. The game has been a part of Held’s life for a long time and she wanted to share her experience without coming across as being egocentric.
“[When I was little], my parents wanted me to have something I would want to do for a long time,” she said. “It wasn’t something they pushed me to do. Coming into the [high school] program, I’d played with older boys. That’s how I got better.
“The captains and coaches were great, but seeing how it all came together and that we had a team of beginners, I wanted to show them how to play and to take pride in themselves. It’s something I love, and I want you to enjoy it, too.”
Held went 18-2 during the regular season, the same record posted by the team. She relished the opportunity to absorb the culture of scholastic tennis, forging friendships with peers for whom the sport serves as a common bond.
“I was playing matches every day and getting to meet a lot of new people,” she said. “And it’s not only teammates. There are kids you get to play a couple times and you get to talking. You see them at the NCCCs and the states.”
The rhythmic nature of her springtime after-school regimen paid dividends.
“I developed so much more strategy,” she said. “I think through how my opponent plays. I figure it out in warm-ups and hit to her weakness. I’ve built up my mental ability.”
The Falcons, regular-season and tournament champions in the NCCC, earned the fourth seed in the Class M state tournament. They lost to Foran of Milford, 4-3, in a quarterfinal match. Held qualified for the individual competition of the State Open, dropping an 8-4 qualifying-round match to Rachel Petrini of Hand of Madison. The setback gave her perspective on what could lie ahead.
“To make it that far as a freshman is good but [Petrini] was on the team that won the states,” Held said. “Getting to the point where you make it is one thing but getting through is different. I won the first game then she came up and took it away.”
The experience encouraged her to work harder.
“I don’t have that much experience with teams who win state championships, but I know I have just as good a shot as they do,” she said. “It comes from working hard and being driven to succeed. I’ll make that my goal for next year.”