Whitney Underwent Successful Singles Switch for Valley Boys’ Tennis
For Shep Whitney, blood is thicker than a tennis racquet as the youngster has the game in his lineage, and he loves getting that same blood pumping while swiftly moving from baseline to baseline for the Valley Regional boys’ tennis team.
The sophomore grew up around a tennis family with both of his parents previously partaking in the sport. As a freshman a year ago for 2022 in the doubles’ ranks, Shep was part of a Valley squad that earned a perfect regular season at 13-0. This spring at No. 4 singles, the sophomore procured a standout 10-4 record to aid the Warriors’ berth in the Class S State Tournament with their 6-8 mark.
“Tennis runs in my family, and I just love running for the ball and getting hard shots, which I am able to do with singles, which is why I think I enjoy it so much,” says Shep. “Practice has been key for me. I take offseason lessons at the Old Saybrook Racquet Club. I also hit balls to myself off my garage door at home, which helps with getting off quick balls and shots. To me, practice really makes perfect.”
Warriors’ boys’ tennis Head Coach Callie Riggio exclaims that knowing the correct way to take sound advice while maintaining court composure when facing a deficit catapulted Shep to superb success this season.
“Shep had a great season this year. He won the Warrior award for his outstanding performance on the court, in addition to being very welcoming for newer players to learn from,” says Riggio. “He had an incredible record at No. 4 singles, and he’ll definitely be a tough competitor for his years to come. He always had nail-biting matches, whether it came down to a tie break or a third set. Either way, he would persevere and play to win. He always took constructive criticism very well, but would also learn from his mistakes and create new strategies for following matches. Even if he was down in a set, he would always reassure me that he would continue to stay determined and follow it through. He is a role model to others, has great sportsmanship, and will go very far with his tennis career. Shep is overall an excellent player and will always be an asset to the team.”
Shep surmises that he is able to really let it rip from the back of his body when it comes to his diverse skill set. No matter the situation, whether he has won five points in a row or is down to match point in a decisive set, Shep keeps an even keel.
“My backhand shot has really improved,” Shep says. “It is my favorite shot in tennis, so I want it to be perfect, and those shots can be so satisfying to hit. My main priority mentally, especially in tough situations, is to just stay calm.”
As he is always cognizant of his coach’s critiques, Shep explains that he has an explosive nature as an athlete–being an individual who cannot stay in the same place at the same time for a lengthy duration–further fueling his love for being a solo artist on the court.
“In between sets, Coach Riggio always gives me pointers, and then between points, I keep an eye on what I was told by my coach,” says Shep. “I like playing singles more, but doubles is still nice. There is not as much running involved with doubles, but I also do not like to stay in the same position for long. I love running for the ball, and I like not having to sit still when playing singles.”
Moving into the upperclassmen portion of his Warriors’ tenure, Shep is aiming to keep up his lesson plans both with a racquet in his hand on the court in addition to in the classroom with a pen and pencil in his hand around open books.
“I feel I study hard, but I can study even harder and will look to lock down on the books,” says Shep. “I will also continue to take lessons in the offseason to keep getting better with tennis.”
After departing with a dynamic half-dozen seniors from the highly-successful and prominent 2022 squad, Shep and Valley had to do a bit of a rebuild this past spring season. Yet in returning to the state tournament draw for 2023 showed that the Warriors are not showing any signs of slowing down.
“We had a very good team last year for 2022 and went undefeated in the regular season. We had six seniors then that were big contributors to the team,” Shep says. “This year, we lost a lot of key players, so we had to build off of some of the newer players on the team.”
No matter the pieces that come together to the ultimate puzzle of the club for Shep’s junior year in 2024, Valley must stay present, aware, and focused in order to continue its ascendancy back to the summit of the Shoreline Conference.
“I know next year we can do well as a team,” says Shep. “We have to step up during practices, step our game up, lock in, and just get ready.”