Stephanie Mazurek originally resisted her father Greg’s attempts to introduce her to tennis.
By the time she was a junior-high student more aware of her own fitness, the sport that her father once coached became a more appealing option than other forms of exercise.
As she prepares to leave high school as the Times Leader Player of the Year for girls tennis, Mazurek has a different attitude. She hopes to continue playing in college and would like to be the one introducing the sport to others.
“My Dad tried to get me to play when I was little, but I wasn’t a big fan of the sport,” she said. “When I started off, I didn’t really like it.
“I picked it back up between seventh- and eighth-grade year and that’s when I started to really take it seriously.”
Mazurek said she had “no athleticism and was very out of shape” when she decided to exercise and begin eating better to less weight. Tennis became a more enjoyable and interesting way to work out.
By the time she arrived in Wyoming Valley Conference tennis as a freshman, Mazurek was quickly progressing in the sport to the point where she won more than two-thirds of her matches as a No. 1 singles player.
“I tried to actually improve my game instead of just playing for fun,” Mazurek said. “I started to compete and see how I would do against others.”
The early high school success led to an even-more dedicated approach to the game.
Family support continued while Mazurek got coaching from Tim Haus at Birchwood Racquet Club in Clarks Summit, since the end of her freshman season, and continued to work with Rick Barletta, closer to home as the head pro at Valley Country Club.
“After seeing what she could do as a freshman at No. 1 singles, she decided that if she put some time and effort into it, she could actually be good,” said second-year Hazleton Area coach Katie Pavlick, the repeat Times Leader Coach of the Year. “She put the time in and each year was a new goal.”
Mazurek, who shared Player of the Year honors with teammate Lily Nowak as a sophomore, has gone unbeaten in the WVC each of the past three seasons while adding honors in the postseason. This year, she moved up from District 2 Class 3A singles champion to District 2-4 Subregional Class 3A singles champion while also leading Hazleton Area to its first subregional team championship and the state tournament appearances that went with each. Both Mazurek, in the top spot, and the team as a whole had gone unbeaten in a repeat WVC championship season.
“A lot of people around here don’t practice tennis year-round,” Mazurek said, “so I was able to catch up to a lot of girls between my freshman and sophomore years.
“The off-season work benefited me the most of anything.”
Mazurek’s competition outside high school reached a high point in the summer of 2016 when she learned she had taken over the No. 1 ranking in the USTA Eastern Pennsylvania District U16 Girls rankings.
Tennis for Mazurek and the Hazleton Area Cougars looks much different than it did just a few years ago.
As a freshman, Mazurek was at the top of an incomplete lineup as the Cougars consistently forfeited second doubles in a 1-12 season. Then, over the past three seasons, they went 39-1 in the WVC while winning titles each year.
“Hazleton was typically not known as a tennis school,” said Mazurek, who had freshman sister Alyssa, a No. 1 doubles player, as a teammate this season. “ … It’s crazy to think freshman year that we didn’t even have a complete roster. Being able to help grow the team and be a leader for the other girls, hopefully I’ve been able to have an impact there as well.”
While pursuing studies in pharmacy, Mazurek hopes to find a college where she can also fit into the tennis program. In addition to the competition, she considers the sport a “great way to stay in shape” and will keep playing regardless.
Watching less-experienced teammates, some of whom joined the team without knowing how to properly hold a racket, grow in the game, Mazurek would like to be able to help others in the future in what she sees as a lifetime sport.
“You don’t see people who are 80 years old playing basketball,” Mazurek said. “Those kinds of sports are tougher on your body. Tennis is something you can do for your whole lifetime and stay active and compete.
“ … Even if I don’t continue playing in college, I will would like to possibly get my pro certification so I could give lessons. … I think it would be fun. I like the coaching aspect and being able to show what I know with others.
“I would like to still keep tennis a part of my life.”