Family brought them into the sport of tennis.
McKenna Adams started playing her freshman year because her father and older sister each played during their respective high school years, and they both encouraged her to play.
“I love playing tennis because it’s such a fun experience,” Adams said, “and it’s a sport I can continue to play even after high school and college.”
Se-hyun Kim and her mother and sister were introduced to the game by her father when she was between 8 and 10 years old.
“Tennis requires not only athleticism, but critical thinking, and a strong mental fortitude,” Kim said. “It is very much a physical and mental battle between two or four beings.”
Kim played as part of Powhatan High School’s girls tennis team’s top six in the three years she attended the school. This would’ve marked Adams’ fourth year competing on Powhatan’s tennis team, and her second full year in the top six after she played in the rotation during part of her sophomore year and all of her junior year.
Kim and Adams last season played on the No. 2 and 3 singles courts, respectively, with Adams holding down the No. 1 doubles court with former partner Kayli Shenk.
This year, Kim and Adams, both seniors, were entering the 2020 girls tennis season as Powhatan’s undisputed leaders on the court.
Anne Louise Maliff, coming into this year as Powhatan’s new head girls tennis coach, saw how Adams set the bar high for the younger players.
“For one, McKenna aced her teammates regularly during challenge matches. The younger players wanted to learn both how to return a hard, fast serve like hers and also how to serve like that themselves,” Maliff said. She noted that Kim’s strength was in her game’s consistency in both smart and strong shot-making.
“Both girls were determined to run down balls both in game situations and in drills,” she added. “Having their skill sets and determination on display every day at practice showed the younger girls their own potential.”
In addition to leadership, Adams felt she provided the newer teammates with encouragement. Kim felt she brought laughter to a lot of the players.
“I tried to use my previous knowledge of the sport to teach anyone who needed help,” Kim said, “and was always ready to lend a helping hand for any other problems that arose.”
The two seniors were gearing up to play together as Powhatan’s No. 1 doubles pair after Shenk transferred to Collegiate. From the time and effort she put into working on drills at the net, Adams felt she was going to deliver aggressive net play this year, and that she and Kim were going to have plays where they could signal to each other and therefore know which plays they were going to do.
“She is an amazing player,” Kim said of Adams, “and I always admired her ability to keep a cool demeanor on the court.”
In singles, Kim and Adams were gearing up to play on the No. 1 and 2 courts, respectively. Maliff had appointed them as the team captains.
“Our new uniforms had just arrived, and we were ready for play,” Maliff said. “The pre-season planning, team camaraderie and parent involvement had come together, and we were ready for our first match.”
“I was looking forward to letting go of any restrictions I had on the court in order to play my best,” Kim said, “and I was excited to create crazy strategies with my doubles partner.”
And then, before the tennis season could properly begin, all of Virginia High School’s spring sports were wiped out.
The COVID-19 pandemic had hit the United States.
“It was pretty tough for me because I was really excited about this upcoming season, playing with all of the new girls on the team, and getting to know them and Coach Maliff,” Adams said.
“I was quite disappointed. Being on the court allowed me to express myself fully and create amazing relationships,” Kim said. “I’m just thankful for the time I did have and hope that the girls will return next year to experience what a true tennis season feels like.”
“I still get sad every time my phone’s calendar reminds me of an upcoming game,” Maliff said. “While I look forward to players returning next year, I know that I have lost my 2020 stars.
“I hope Se and McKenna maintain their love for tennis because the adult women’s teams are going to be eager to have them join rosters.”
For Adams, the pandemic has motivated her to tell her younger teammates to play every game like it’s their last, and to always give 100% in everything that they do.
Kim is very motivated to master her serves during the summer.
“I was in the process of perfecting my serves this season,” Kim said. “But once everything calms down, I’ll be going to the courts daily.”
“Tennis is a unique game for life; you can take a racket anywhere – to college, on vacation, to work – and it’s a sport where both men and women can compete together,” Maliff said. “I hope they continue to improve their game and love it as much as I do.”
Kim plans to attend James Madison University and major in education. She said she’ll definitely bring her tennis equipment to university with her, but that she’ll probably stick to club or just playing with friends.
“Tennis has taught me many things about myself and others,” Kim said. “Through tennis I learned how to improve myself. Tennis goes well beyond the court for me. It has taught me lessons of self discipline and so much more.”
Adams’ post-graduation plans are to attend John Tyler Community College for general education classes and then transfer to Blue Ridge Community College to participate in their Veterinary Technician program.
“I might look into playing club tennis while in college, but if not, I always have my dad and sister to play tennis with for fun,” Adams said.
Tennis, she added, helped teach her to always try her hardest, and to never give up.
For Adams, being on Powhatan’s tennis team was really fun, competitive and exciting, and she was grateful for her head coach, Jennifer Campbell, through her first three years, and for her two best friends she made along the way, Shenk and Haley Balzer. Adams cherishes all the memories they shared together and praised them for never letting her give up, and for making her high school career amazing.
“Some of my favorite memories would be jamming to music on the way back from matches, no matter if we won or lost,” Adams said. “Another one of my favorite memories would be playing tennis with my best friends, Haley and Kayli. We also had so much fun going out to dinner before home matches.”
Kim said they had a ritual of going to WaWa before their away games to stock up on snacks and drinks, and how they’d go to a restaurant near the school before their home games.
“It was always nice to step back from the world of tennis and bond with one another,” Kim said.
Kim and Adams were technically the first class of seniors that Maliff got to coach at Powhatan, and they were leaders in all facets.
“Powhatan is not a tennis mecca. The trade-off to rural charm is that most families in Powhatan don’t have access to either courts or lessons. Our team had several new players who were good athletes in other sports, but new to the game of tennis. We also had several who, despite playing previously on the team, were still in the category of beginner players,” Maliff said.
“I could depend on Se and McKenna to lead in drills or hit with some girls on one court, while I worked with others on another court. They understood and embraced their role in developing the younger and less experienced players.”
To Maliff, they were perfect role models in different but positive ways.
“Se was always the first player on the courts everyday and the first to acknowledge good shots and improved efforts from teammates, always offering an encouraging word,” Maliff said. “McKenna organized a team secret sister exchange and after a few practices said, ‘I think we need to end practices with some sort of sound-off,’ so we began coming together with a ‘Powhatan on 4…1, 2, 3 Powhatan!’”
They also offered Maliff assurance in her first season coaching.
“While I brought decades of tennis knowledge and experience to Powhatan girls tennis, I felt some insecurity about my lack of experience in coaching high schoolers,” Maliff said. “Se maturely approached me pre-season with some thoughtful suggestions to improve upon the 2019 season. And McKenna was the first player I found playing on the courts pre-season and so I got to hit with her a bit.
“I came to practice on the first day already knowing I had two seniors who I could depend upon to lead the team both with their playing and their leadership,” Maliff said. “Their leadership made a difference to me in my first year of coaching and to the team. We will miss them both.”
From the short time they had together on the court, Adams praised Maliff as an amazing coach.
“I enjoyed getting to know her for the short time we had during this tennis season. She made practice fun and always played music for us at the end when we started to work out,” Adams said. “She taught me lots of new drills and helped improve my skills a lot.
“I also want to wish my junior, sophomore and freshman teammates good luck for next school year and season!”