Published July 15. 2014 4:00AM Updated July 16. 2014 10:33AM
Sophia Shi had people tell her before this girls' tennis season that she'd win the Eastern Connecticut Conference championship.
Shi didn't share their optimism.
"I didn't believe it at all," said Shi, an East Lyme High School junior, "but I was hoping for it.
"Last year, during ECCs, I lost to (Waterford's) Nisha Rajamohan in the quarterfinals. She was also going to be back. She trains very hard and she's very serious about tennis. She's really good, and I knew that she was going to improve her game."
Shi, in her first season playing in the No. 1 singles slot, needed to change her game in order to beat others, as well as learn how to not beat herself. Her work paid off this spring as she went unbeaten during the regular season and bounced back from a crushing 6-0 loss in the second set to beat Rajamohan for the ECC title.
Shi has been named The Day's 2014 All-Area Girls' Tennis Player of the Year.
"She's always been consistent," East Lyme coach Laurie Zrenda said. "The change was more mental than in her game. Her game has always been strong and I think she always hit hard and deep and very consistent. I think this year she started to believe in herself a lot more and I think that made the difference."
Shi worked during the offseason to be a more aggressive player. She had employed a more defensive style and waited for her opponents to make a mistake.
The most important work Shi did may have been on her mental game.
"(This year), whenever I missed a ball, I tried to forget about it. I can't change the shot, even though you wish you could," Shi said. "Just move on from that point. Don't try to switch anything up. I know how to hit a ball, so don't think about it too much and hit it because that's what I know how to do."
Shi used former teammate Joan Li as a role model. Li was last season's ECC champion and The Day's All-Area Girls' Tennis Player of the Year.
"She was so headstrong and consistent and never freaked out on the court," Shi said. "She always persevered. At last year's ECC final, she lost to (Stonington's) Annika Burgess in the first set, then she came back strong (and won). She never lost faith in herself. That was a huge part of what I tried to do this year."
Shi got a confidence boost when she beat Rajamohan during the regular season 7-6 (5), 6-3.
She took the first set from Rajamohan at the ECC final, 6-1, but got blitzed in the second set.
Shi received some good fortune when it began raining in the third set with her trailing 2-1.
The tournament was moved from Stonington High School to Mystic Indoor Tennis and it gave Shi time to get herself back together.
She rallied to win the third set 6-3.
"(Rajamohan) started doing a lot of drop shots and it surprised me," Shi said. "I didn't react to it as much as I should.
"I think (the rain) was a huge part of why I won. It gave me time to refocus and forget about the last set, think about ways that I could deal with the drop shots better."