'An Excellent Choice': Vike Tennis Player Wins Statewide Award
Mary Beth Jackson of Whispering Pines recently won a statewide sportsmanship award during the USTA North Carolina’s Tennis Weekend at Pinehurst Resort.
Jackson is a freshman at Union Pines High School where she is the No.1 singles player and reigning league singles champion for coach John Frye’s Lady Vikings tennis team.
When discussing Jackson, the legendary NCHSAA and Union Pines Athletic Hall of Fame member sang the praises of his rising star along with her recent string of accolades and success on the tennis court.
“What a joy to coach Mary Beth,” said Frye. “She is part of a great and wonderful Union Pines tennis family — each of us better because of those surrounding us. There are so many supporters and facilitators in our tennis community — but the excellence we enjoy begins with our parents and players — none of whom have greater vision or a more exacting work ethic than Mary Beth and her parents Wade and Tracy.
“I watched Mary Beth drive balls off the gym wall as a fifth- and sixth-grader and have had few students to plant and drive with the same balance and consistency. She looks at the ball with a steely smile, focused and intent, her energies pointed toward optimally placing the ball and causing her opponent optimal discomfort. Yet, on those rare occasions when an opponent has the upper hand, Mary Beth is the first to extend her own — in congratulations.
“Mary Beth is an excellent choice for the (sportsmanship) award. How many top athletes have the knack of soundly dispatching an opponent, kindly thanking them for the match and have them exit the court with an immense good feeling of being thoroughly thrashed — that’s Mary Beth.”
The USTA North Carolina awarded 30 recipients with its annual 2012 awards held late in January in Pinehurst. Jackson received the Junior Sportsmanship Award for females 14-and-under.
‘Just Stay Calm’
Back in September 2012, Jackson competed in the Colonial Family Practice USTA regional tournament in Sumter, S.C., where she reached the quarterfinals and won another sportsmanship award.
That sportsmanship award was voted on by all the players in her division at the regional event.
“It means a lot to me that people see me as a good sport,” said Jackson. “It is really hard to keep your wits about you out there and stay level-headed and focused. It takes a lot of head strength, really. My key is just to stay calm, and no matter how close the match is or how bad you might be playing that day, it is important to just stay calm and I always try to tell myself that.”
In her first high school season Jackson dominated play in the 3-A Cape Fear Valley Conference and qualified for the 2012 NCHSAA 3-A state finals in singles. Meanwhile in her USTA season Jackson played lots of tennis on both the girls 14 and girls 16 circuits during 2012.
“In terms of my USTA season I started to play my big tournaments this (past) year and sort of reaching that peak to play the bigger tournaments and have some good results in those tournaments,” Jackson said. “So I thought this year (2012) was a very successful one for me.”
In the final 2012 USTA NC rankings Jackson finished 33rd in the girls 14 rankings with a record of 22-29. She completed the girls 16 season ranked 41st. That ranking is deceptively low in contrast to her results. Jackson amassed an overall record of 16-11 in the girls 16 for the season, winning two championships with the Pinehurst Junior Classic and the Downeast Junior Challenge titles and also earning two runner-up finishes.
According to her USTA coach Aaron Priest, maybe more impressive than her singles titles was Jackson’s performance at the Tar Heel Qualifier in Winston-Salem. By winning three matches at the event Jackson became the third girl from Moore County (joining Hannah Priest and Neena Wanko, also former Union Pines players) to qualify for the prestigious Southern Closed in Macon, Ga.
“Mary Beth started with me after her school season of her seventh-grade year,” said Priest. “At the time she had big goals but not a lot of game. But she had the talent and the determination and I thought she would progress quickly.”
Two summers ago Priest said he watched Jackson play in the NC Junior State Closed where she won two big matches on stadium court at the Cary Tennis Park.
“After that I said ‘OK,’ she can be a serious player,” Priest said, “and she has just gone up since then. The thing that makes Mary Beth special, even more than her athletic events, is her perspective. She is super mature — she knows what matters and what doesn’t matter and she lets what doesn’t matter go.
“She never questions herself or her goals and that is pretty astonishing at her age. Traveling around the USTA tournaments you see a lot of foul attitudes and you don’t ever see that from Mary Beth. I attribute that to her upbringing and her perspective. She knows what matters. The bigger the stage the more Mary Beth glows as a player and as a person.”
Frye has been around many top-tier championship tennis players at all levels throughout his time in the sport. He sees in Jackson the same things he has seen in most of the true champions he has encountered.
“Champions exude confidence,” said Frye. “There is about them a quality, an air, an attitude — not boastful — but assured and self-reliant. Mary Beth has this. She would excel in chess or poker. She rarely betrays her hand and she always seems to keep back an ace, ready to be delivered at just the right moment — receiving a weak second serve or a short return — and pounding it.
“Her opponents sense the aura prior to striking the first ball. Mary Beth comes at you with a smile and gentle sturdy directness and regardless of her opponent’s tenacity some of their competitive edge is lost.”
The 2013 USTA NC season is already under way. This year Jackson will play strictly in the girls 16 division, having turned 15 back in late November. In high school she will take the court come autumn as a sophomore for Union Pines.
As Jackson looks to move forward her goals remain clear and uncompromised, as does her resolve to reach them.
“I definitely want to again make it to states (individual championships) in high school and leave a mark there by winning a few matches this time. In terms of USTA I want to try to get into some really big tournaments. I am working hard to try to get my ranking as high as I can to get into the nationals this year.
“My coach Aaron (Priest) and I talked about it and he agreed it is a very reasonable goal, as long as I keep working hard.”
Contact F. W. Manning II at email@example.com.
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