Rapid City Stevens junior Erica Wing didn’t allow herself much of a learning curve in her first season of varsity tennis.
She was good from the start and a two-time champion in the end.
Playing at flight 6 singles and flight 3 doubles, Wing won a pair of championships in her first state tournament last weekend at Sioux Park.
There was no such thing as beginner’s luck in her case — Wing was 32-1 in singles play and 33-2 in doubles play with teammate Julia Wiedmeier.
“I’m kind of mind-blown at how well this has actually turned out for me,” she said. “I went in as the two seed in singles and doubles. I thought, ‘We’d be happy with second.’ I was until I got first, and I was ecstatic and overjoyed. It was amazing.”
Longtime Stevens tennis coach Jason Olson had a feeling about Wing, going back to last season when she played junior varsity and was on the fourth flight doubles squad (three flights in varsity).
“I told her all year long that, ‘Hey, I’m counting on you for varsity next year,’” Olson said. “She wasn’t as high up and there were some people ahead of her, but I just saw her work ethic and how much she wanted to get better.”
From the very beginning of this season, Olson said they could tell that Wing was something special.
“She had shots that nobody else had at that flight,” he said.
Her two state titles helped the Raiders finish second in the team race behind Sioux Falls Lincoln. Stevens was in striking distance the entire way in the three-day tournament.
Wing won the flight 6 singles title with an exciting 2-6, 6-3, 7-6(6) win over Grace Abdallah. Despite bouncing back and winning the second set, the third set was back-and-forth and Wing trailed 4-0 in the tiebreaker before putting it all together at the end.
For a first-time varsity player, it was all about keeping her cool and staying mentally strong.
She said she just kept playing her game and stopped worrying about what she did wrong, and concentrated on what she could do right.
“A lot of times you will see players, when they make mistakes or do things they didn’t want to do and they are losing, they get down on themselves or get angry or upset," she said. "I hate when I make a stupid mistake or make unforced errors, but I think being mentally tough is a huge part of the game."
Olson said her consistency was key this season, especially at the state tournament.
“What she really grew was her mental game. She didn’t let it get her down and it got stronger as it went on,” he said. “Our schedule is grueling; the travel, who we play and missing school. For her to put it all together is pretty special.”
With Wiedmeier, it was more of the same as the duo fell behind early before rallying to defeat Abdallah and Sage Barnard 1-6, 6-2, 6-3.
As is usually the case with a champion doubles teams, it was all about chemistry between Wing and Wiedmeier.
It took a while, even with their success for much of the season.
“This was the first year that we played doubles together. Over the summer we actually played a couple of tournaments as doubles partners and it didn’t go very well,” she said. “We were a little nervous going in, but we had a great season. She’s a great partner. She is the one who kept me mentally focused and mentally tough.”
Still somewhat of a newcomer to the game, Wing often went up against players with much more experience than herself. Going back to her mental toughness, it was about playing her own game, and not her opponent’s.
She said she just relies on what she is being taught and how she knows how to play tennis.
“I don’t think it mattered that they were maybe a little more experienced than I was, but I just think the fact that I could be there and play the way I know I can play really helped me,” she said.
To go with her mental game is also a power game, particularly with her forehand and her serve.
“I like to hit forehands that other players can’t return,” she said.
At state, Olson said she hit big serve after big serve, not only in singles play but in doubles.
"At match point she had a big serve,” he said. “She has best serve in (flights) 4, 5 and 6, and what she can do on the baseline is great because she has so much power,” he said.
Olson wasn’t all that surprised with Wing’s success this year, but was she?
“Maybe a little bit because I didn’t know exactly what the level of play would be like on varsity,” she said. “I think it did surprise me a little bit that I came out on top.”
It was a long season that began in mid August. Yet, there’s no rest for the weary, and Wing said she is going to start playing again right away indoors, over the winter and then into the summer
She wants to improve going into next season.
Where will she move up to play next season? She said third flight seems like a good place to start.
And how can she top two state titles in her first year at varsity? Two more titles next year would be ideal, she said with a smile.
“I’m going to work my butt off and hopefully that is where we will end up,” she said suddenly with a tint of determination already showing.