It doesn't matter if it's 11 degrees outside in the dead of winter-Eli Phelps will take any measure to become a better tennis player, which has been especially evident in his senior season.
The Morgan senior captain started his freshman year playing mainly doubles before spending every day that offseason hitting the ball to improve his skills. The cold days of training have given way to a scorching record for Eli, as the two-time First Team All-Shoreline selection sports an overall career mark of 46-12 with a 19-1 record this spring.
"I just try to stay positive; there were a couple matches this year I won because I kept moving and the ball in. Plus, it doesn't hurt to be a tall lefty," says Eli, the Huskies' No. 1 singles player for three years. "I spent the entire offseason after freshman year playing singles, so I adapted to it by the time the season rolled around. Playing singles was actually my goal, as I wrote it to my coach in the yearbook."
Eli adds that on his opening year flying solo, he went 12-8 on the road to his first All-Conference bid, riding a wave of squad support throughout.
"My first singles match, I was nervous, but it wasn't huge pressure because my teammates were super supportive, which was a huge help," says Eli, who had advanced to the third round of Class S play as of press time. "My record that year gave me the realization that, 'Hey, I can do this.' The last two years with the All-Shoreline Team honors definitely fueled me for this year. Sophomore year, I didn't have huge expectations, but that year pushed them even higher."
While bundling up in year-round preparation for each campaign, Eli became so accustomed with the sport that practicing daily became an obsession he was happy to have.
"I remember I went out one day to warm up for a tournament when it was 11 degrees outside, but I thought that if I want it more and I'm willing to do things like this, then it'll help me," Eli says. "I also dropped soccer to concentrate more on tennis, and tennis is my compulsion."
Morgan Head Coach Christopher Zawadski reports that Eli dominates his competition on the Shoreline circuit, along with thriving in the leadership department as a selfless captain for the Huskies.
"Eli is one of the most talented, if not, the most talented, tennis player Morgan has ever had. His record will be missed next year, but not as much as the leadership he brings. Eli spends most of his practice time helping other members of the team by doing drills and helping with instruction. Even though tennis can be seen as an individual sport, Eli puts the team's performance above his own," says Zawadski. "Eli gets as much enjoyment watching his teammates improve as he does winning his own matches. He wanted to improve, so after the [freshman] season was over Eli hit with his father or other people every single day until the next season. It is almost unheard of to go from doubles to the No. 1 spot on the team. Eli would bundle up in the winter and still hit for at least an hour a day; that is beyond dedication."
In piloting this group, Eli-who thanks his parents Max and Mary Jo, along with Coach Zawadski and Yale tennis Head Coach Alex Dorat-feels that friendships come first in helping teammates stay sharp and additionally satisfied with their surroundings.
"What's important to know is that we started as friends first, so it's a learning experience for us all," Eli says.
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