The hardest part of getting through the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association Girls Tennis Championships for Nathalie Joanlanne was just getting started.
Joanlanne arrived in Hershey Nov. 1-2 a bit rusty and lacking confidence after taking time off from practice to try to be healthier for the tournament.
The Wyoming Seminary junior and Dallas resident shook off a tough start to leave Hershey with the title of Class AA singles champion.
Joanlanne lost her first set at the Hershey Racquet Club, then won eight straight, taking four matches and the championship.
“The score definitely showed the first match was the toughest,” Joanlanne said. “I went into the tournament not having played for two weeks before because I had strained my calf.”
Nathalie shared the title with her mother, Allison Joanlanne, who became the Wyoming Seminary coach at the start of the 2012 season
“It’s been a long road,” Allison said. “A lot of work has gone into it in the past year or so from Nathalie. She’s really worked hard on and off the court.”
The process of becoming a state champion – and the coach of a state champion – started much earlier.
Allison, who played tennis at Old Dominion University and taught the sport professionally in New York before moving to Dallas about 10 years ago, introduced her daughter to tennis at an early age.
“I’ve played all my life,” Allison said. “ … When she was about 3 or 4, I put a racket in her hand. Just for fun in the summertime, I would take her out and I taught her the swing. I taught her all the basic fundamentals until she was about 9, then she had other people teach her.”
When Nathalie arrived as a high school player, she began her Wyoming Seminary career playing for coach Mike Balutanski. As a freshman, she reached the district singles final, before winning a doubles title and a first-round state match with Sheena Syal and also helped the Blue Knights to the final of the district team tournament.
The path of her high school career changed before Nathalie began her sophomore season.
Balutanski suffered a stroke and was unable to continue coaching. The Wyoming Valley Conference’s most successful girls tennis program needed a new coach.
“Mike’s incident was definitely a huge upset,” Nathalie said. “The entire team and I were devastated to have him have to leave as a coach. We really loved his coaching.”
There was, however, a solution and an opportunity for the Joanlanne family.
Allison resigned from her job as Misericordia University men’s and women’s tennis coach to take over the Wyoming Seminary programs.
“They needed a coach immediately,” Allison said. “I had to resign my position at Misericordia, but I took the position with no hesitation.
“Of course, I did think about it but I had gotten to know the girls, my own daughter was on the team and I knew I was already coaching her as her mom. She didn’t have a problem with it and they welcomed me with open arms.”
And, the success continued.
Wyoming Seminary has gone 26-0 in the WVC under Allison and has now lost just one conference match in the last five years. The team seasons ended with district final losses to Scranton Prep, which went on to finish as state runner-up this year.
Nathalie extended her singles seasons further. She moved up to district champion and state quarterfinalist as a sophomore and put in the summer tournament play to enter this season ready to pursue a state title.
The poorly-timed leg trouble dampened some of that hope between repeating as district singles champion and heading to Hershey.
“It’s a good feeling to win a state championship,” Allison said. “We didn’t think it was going to happen. We weren’t expecting it.”
Lin Robertson of Berks Catholic added to those doubts by winning the first set of the first round match, 6-2.
“I was a little bit shaky, a little bit nervous going into the tournament, then I lost that first match,” Nathalie said.
When Nathalie rallied to pull out a 2-6, 6-2, 7-5 victory, her hopes received a boost.
“When I headed down there, I had confidence that I was going to make it pretty far, but the night before when I was practicing, I was not playing well at all,” Nathalie said. “My game was breaking down and that made me nervous. When I won that first match, I regained all my confidence and actually said, ‘OK, now you can do this.’
“That first match was definitely a huge obstacle to get past.”
Later that day, Nathalie rolled through the round where her season ended a year ago. She handled Sewickley Academy’s Samantha Gohh, the champion of the Pittsburgh suburbs in District 7, winning, 6-1, 6-1, to reach the semifinals.
After the tough start, Nathalie did not face trouble again until the final set of the tournament. She defeated New Hope-Solebury’s Genevieve Hobson, 6-1, 6-3, before fighting through a second-set tiebreaker to defeat McConnellsburg’s Bronwyne Mellott, 6-4, 7-6 (7-4).
“I knew Bronwyne was the toughest because I had looked up her rankings,” Nathalie said. “I was definitely happy to see her on the opposite side of the bracket from me.”
After watching Mellott and getting tips from her coaches, Nathalie stuck were her game plan of hitting to the lefty’s backhand and came away with the first girls’ tennis state championship in Wyoming Seminary history.