This is a printer-friendly version of an article from Zip06.com.08/12/2021 12:00 AM
Between taking time off from the sport, battling through an injury as a freshman, and losing her junior season, Shae Lepre’s journey through tennis has been anything but typical. However, no matter the hardships, Shae wanted to stay on the court and wound up putting together a solid career with the Branford girls’ tennis team that culminated with her earning All-SCC honors as a senior captain.
Shae started playing tennis at age six at the Owenego Inn and Pine Orchard Club in Branford. Shae’s sister Keeley, who was a captain of the Hornets during Shae’s freshman year, helped get her into the sport. Shae continued playing at the clubs until she was 11, when her time as a tennis player came to a brief halt.
Shae picked up golf and started taking the sport seriously. Shae considered playing for the boys’ golf team at Branford, but after having taken a break from tennis, her love of the sport was reinvigorated, and so she joined the girls’ tennis team as a freshman.
“When I was entering my freshman year, I had to make a decision if I wanted to play golf or tennis. I started getting into [tennis] more and playing much more,” Shae says. “I just fell in love with the sport. Sometimes your mind just needs a stop when playing a certain sport. I just had a love for it, watching other people play.”
Early in her freshman season, Shae suffered a hairline fracture in her right ankle and was forced to miss four weeks of action. Shae hated not being on the court and couldn’t wait to get back out there. Once she returned, Shae played for the Hornets’ No. 2 doubles team.
“I hated just watching matches. I wanted to be out there with my team. I was at least glad it happened during freshman year. I was able to see how people played,” says Shae. “When I came back, I was put with a new doubles partner, which was a bit difficult. But my freshman year went great. I played super well. There were improvements in my serve, and I realized I could be great as a senior.”
During her sophomore season, Shae was promoted to Branford’s No. 1 doubles team. Shae and her doubles partner Alayna Boileau were both named to the All-SCC Division II Team that season.
Just as she was finding her stride, Shae’s junior season was canceled due to COVID-19. Instead of staying sidelined, Shae competed in the United States Tennis Association (USTA), playing singles matches against athletes at her skill level. Shae’s experience in the USTA helped her get ready for her senior year.
When she returned to the Hornets as a senior, Shae made the move from doubles to singles, playing the No. 1 spot for Branford. Shae was disappointed when she lost her first match of the year, but that setback helped her realize what she needed to do to succeed.
Shae finished the season with a record of 12-5, while helping Branford advance to the SCC Division II final and qualify for the Class L State Tournament.
“I came into senior year really wanting to transition into singles. Once I got the No. 1 singles spot, I lost my first match, and it tore me apart,” Shae says. “I just needed to get better and get out of my own head. I had some really hard matches.”
At the end of the season, Shae was selected to the All-SCC Division II team alongside sophomore teammate Leila Omeragic. Shae feels honored to have earned All-Conference honors for the second-straight season and credits her teammates for helping Branford have such a great campaign.
“It was just a really nice season. I was truly honored to be named All-SCC again,” says Shae. “I made it in doubles, and now I made it in singles, too.”
Shae entered her senior year as one of Branford’s captains alongside fellow senior Hanna Bloomquist. Throughout the season, Shae ran drills with all of the Hornets’ starting singles players, in addition to work with the club’s younger players. Shae loved leading the team in tandem with Bloomquist.
“Being captain was an honor. I tried to get my girls really involved,” Shae says. “There were a lot of beginners on our team, but it was a lot of fun leading with Hannah. We really made a great pair.”
Head Coach Jim Cole says that Shae was a strong player and exemplary leader for his team. Cole would often check in with Shae to make sure that the Hornets were staying on task, but he always knew that Shae had everything under control.
“Shae was a great captain and No. 1 singles player during the spring season,” says Cole. “It was a pleasure coaching Shae throughout her high school tennis career, and I’m confident Shae’s future holds many other honors.”
Shae also competed for Branford girls’ swimming and diving team during her time at the high school. Now that she has graduated, Shae will attend Miami University in Ohio to pursue a degree in nursing. She plans on playing club tennis at the school and has already been in contact with a few members of the team.
While there were some pauses throughout her tennis career, Shae always found herself back on the court. Shae’s time away made her realize how much she missed tennis, and her four years with the Hornets helped her realize how much she loves the sport.
“It was an honor. Taking a break from a sport can make you stronger. You realize how much it means,” Shae says. “It means so much more to me now playing out of Branford.”