Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2007

Wolman is back and better than ever

Walter Johnson senior re-commits herself to tennis, eyes up state title

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Lauren Wolman’s father, Art, gave his daughter a nickname a few years back. He started calling her ‘‘the robot” for her mechanical, emotionless demeanor on the tennis court. And the truth is, Wolman started living up to that moniker, because, after devoting her life to tennis basically since birth, she’d lost her love for the game.

She’d become the classic burnout case, so much talent and potential, but no more desire to play the sport.

Sometimes though, a little reprieve is all it takes. And that seems to be the case for Wolman, a senior at Walter Johnson High and the Wildcats’ No. 1 singles player. After a stellar 2006 high-school season — she went 17-1 en route to No. 1 singles titles in the county and Region II tournaments — Wolman, once ranked nationally in the USTA rankings, has regained her passion for tennis. And, now eager to start the 2007 high-school season, is also sifting through college offers. She’s received interest from a number of programs, including NCAA Division III Johns Hopkins and St. Mary’s, among others.

Wolman, who went undefeated at No. 3 singles to win the county title her freshman year before moving up to No. 1 the last three years, is the epitome of a natural talent. And she’s found again the excitement and drive to pursue the sport she’s so good at.

True motivation must come from within. Wolman, who also plays lacrosse and led the Wildcats in scoring her sophomore year, has that desire again. The crafty right-hander earned a bid to the state high-school tournament this past spring with last fall’s regional title, but after a long bout with mononucleosis, wasn’t at full strength, falling to eventual champion Katelyn Stokes (Eleanor Roosevelt) in the semifinals. And that only fueled the fire.

Wolman decided not two minutes after that loss, she was ready to re-devote herself to tennis. And she did. After a two-week break following the last day of school mid-June, Wolman began her intense summer training regimen July 1. She spent a minimum of three hours each day on the courts, training at the elite Bullis Tennis Center in Potomac. And often she found herself yearning for more court time — she usually hit the courts for an extra two hours a day with her dad.

‘‘I think I’m starting to find the love of the game again,” Wolman said. ‘‘Before I was playing but I wasn’t enjoying it. Freshman year it was kind of like, homework, tennis, school, just one of the things I had to do. But I’m starting to enjoy it more again. When I won counties, it kind of hit me like, ‘Oh, you can really do this. You should really try.’ And at the state tournament I realized what I’d given up by playing lacrosse. I was seeing the consequences of my decision. If I could’ve had the lacrosse season or done better at the state tournament, I would’ve picked to have been more prepared for the state tournament.”

Wolman won’t make that mistake this year and is focused on winning the state title next spring. And she has the tools to do it with a game that drives opponents crazy. She possesses some power off the ground, but wins more matches on her consistency and shot variety — she can slice, add topspin. Wolman’s got all the shots, and the smarts to know when to use them. That’s what’ll make her an asset to whatever college team she chooses for next year and it’s what she and her Walter Johnson teammates hope can lead them to their second consecutive Division I and county titles — they won their first of both in more than 10 years in 2006.

‘‘Lauren is one of the few teenagers who is truly an all-court player,” Walter Johnson coach Mary Lafratta said. ‘‘Kids today are mostly just baseliners. Lauren can do everything. I was just hitting with her and I have that old slice and dice game and she’s just slicing and dicing it right back. She can hit topspin. She can come to net. She never hits the same shot twice in a row. She moves well; she’s very fast. When was the last time you’ve seen a high-school girl who’s such an all-around player?”

As much a part of Walter Johnson’s success as Wolman’s been, she’s probably the least vocal on the team. But, she leads by example, through her impeccable work ethic. And now that she’s completely committed to tennis and her team, there couldn’t be a better example.

‘‘Lauren’s very quiet, she doesn’t say a whole lot,” Lafratta said. ‘‘She’s got a quiet determination, she just doesn’t give up. A lot of people play to expectations. But she kind of has that attitude like, ‘Oh, you expect me to lose? Well why don’t you just stick around and watch?’ Last year when she started well and made that commitment to playing better, the other girls picked up on it. And it’s like, ‘If our No. 1 player thinks she can go out and get better, then I can too.’ It’s kind of trickled down.”