Nazareth tennis coach Shakir Willett (left) and Vo (center) celebrated the latter’s win in Hershey last weekend.
Alex Vo traveled off the beaten path when searching for a sport to excel in, trying anything from ice skating to swimming. Thanks to an assist from her dad, the Nazareth Academy junior fell in love with another non-mainstream sport for young people, and her skills on the tennis court are making a name for herself and her school.
Vo, who completed her third straight undefeated singles regular season for Nazareth this fall, advanced further than she ever has in 2014, gaining entry into the PIAA state singles tournament this past weekend. She won her first match (6–1, 6–2) over Mara Trifoi of Wyomissing High School in Berks County before falling to eventual state champion Tyra Ott of Easton’s Wilson Area High School in a three-hour, hard-fought match in the state quarterfinals.
For Vo, the achievement was a monumental payoff for a sport she works tirelessly at year-round. While the uneducated masses may perceive tennis, especially for high school student-athletes, as nothing more than a leisurely activity, it represents much more than that to Vo. For starters, it allowed Vo the opportunity to “bring out the Nazareth name” at a statewide level, as she said; however, and perhaps more importantly, it was the culmination of all the work she has put into the sport when she fell in love with it at age 7 after being introduced to it by her father, Binh, also an active tennis enthusiast.
“In addition to the high school season at Nazareth, I take lessons at the Princeton Tennis Program and the Northampton Tennis and Fitness Center,” Vo said during a recent chat at Nazareth. “I play in a lot of United States Tennis Association (USTA) tournaments, and all of this extra work helps me a lot during the high school season. I’ve been working so much at improving my game, and this year there was a lot more interest in our program at Nazareth. I’ve gotten closer with the girls, and playing tennis has allowed me to build up a lot of friendships.”
As Nazareth’s undisputed top singles player, Vo is often matched up with opposing schools’ top players, making her three straight undefeated regular seasons an even more impressive accomplishment. She was District 1’s top-ranked singles player at states in the PIAA Class AA tournament, getting to face off against some of Pennsylvania’s best high school players after falling short the past two years. All of her private lessons and USTA tournaments (sometimes three or four a month when the high school season is not in session) helped get here there, as Vo has become accustomed to playing the best of the best.
“I’d never been to states before, so I’m just really excited,” she said. “I wanted to win, but I didn’t care if I lost so long as I played well. I’ve been working on my game so much trying to get there. It’s a first time for me and for our team, so it was a big deal, and I just wanted to do my best.”
In an age where mainstream sports like soccer, basketball and softball dominate girls sports, it’s refreshing to see a young lady like Vo put in so much time and effort into a “different” game. Much of that can be attributed to Vo’s relationship with her father, a tennis fanatic who introduced the sport to his daughter at a young age when trying to cultivate competitive interest in Alex.
“My dad and I started hitting together leisurely when I was about 7 years old,” Vo said. “He likes to play doubles a lot with his friends; at the time I was an ice skater, but once he introduced me to tennis, I found a mutual interest. He’s very committed to my tennis … both of my parents’ lives revolve around taking me to matches and lessons and tournaments. Having him there has been helpful to my own game, because we can talk about what I might be doing wrong, as well as how to improve it.”
Vo said she and her father’s mutual love of tennis had seeped into other areas of life, from watching the same television programs to being able to crack jokes at one another. Vo even joked that their relationship was kind of like “a father-son bond, even though I’m his daughter.”
“We watch big matches on TV and analyze,” she said. “We look for what the players are doing and apply that to our own games. I’m his daughter, but we talk more like friends. We spend a lot of time in the car going to lessons and tournaments and it gives us time to bond and critique each other’s tennis games.”
Vo said tennis offers the best of both worlds, as far as competition goes, allowing players to excel both individually and teach them the importance of teamwork. She encouraged kids her age to give the sport a try, stating that tennis’ “70 percent mental, 30 percent physical” breakdown translates into other areas in life.
“It’s taught me that, like in life, you’re not always going to have a perfect day,” Vo said. “You have off days, but that doesn’t mean you just quit. You have to find a way to get through it. If you think you’re at your limit, you push yourself one step further and improve yourself significantly as a player and a person. During the season, matches sometimes last until 9 o’clock; you might not want to be up until 1 a.m. doing your homework, but tennis’ competitive mentality helps motivate me.”
Nazareth tennis coach Shakir Willett, who played collegiately at Holy Family, is beyond impressed with her star player.
“She’s a very mature girl and player,” Willett said. “She’s calm, cool and collected on the court. I’ve seen her grow so much these past three years. Not only is she consistent, but she’s gotten much better attacking the ball and her opponent. Whether she’s up or down, she never folds. She knows she can beat anybody. Alex is always ready for her fight.”
For her part, Vo said she’d like to play tennis in college. Beyond that, she hopes she can pass down her knowledge and enthusiasm for the sport to her own children, as Binh did to her.
“It’s been such a big part of my childhood, so I want to always be playing in some capacity,” she said. “I’ve developed a lot of friendships, and I’d definitely like to share it with my own kids someday. My dad and I are so much closer because of tennis. I really like what I’m doing, and I hope it carries over to my own family. I want my own kids to live exactly as I’ve lived.” ••
Vo has become quite the decorated leader on the tennis court for Nazareth.
Holding court: Nazareth Academy junior Alex Vo, fresh off her third straight undefeated singles regular season, advanced to the state quarterfinals. PHOTOS COURTESY OF BINH VO