Laguna Beach Independent — October 1, 2010
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Sophomore Playing Smarter, Not Harder
Robert Campbell

Taylor Nederlander is in what athletes call “the zone.” Laguna Beach High’s top singles player opened the season winning 14 of her first 15 matches. The lone blemish was a hard-fought 7-5 setback against Allie Dawson of top-ranked CIF division I Dana Hills.

Last season, Nederlander beat Dawson, who is currently ranked among the top 50 in the 18s division in southern California by the United States Tennis Association. “She was not happy she lost that match at all, in any way, shape or form,” said Breaker Coach Alec Horton. “I thought she was tougher on herself than she needed to be.”

Nederlander’s always been a tough competitor who hits the ball hard and doesn’t like to lose says Horton, who is also her personal coach. But it’s her new found mental toughness that spells the difference between this year and last. As a freshman, she often tried to beat her opponents with power. Now she is learning to hit the ball smarter, not harder.

In her first of three matches against Dana Hills, Nederlander played senior Joanna Smith, last year’s South Coast League singles champ and currently ranked 10th by USTA among southern California 18s. The 15-year-old quickly found herself in a 0-2 hole. Rather than lose her patience and the match, like Nederlander the freshman might have, the savvy sophomore picked up on a weakness in Smith’s backhand and exploited it for a 6-2 win.

Before the match, Taylor really believed she could beat her, said Horton.

“Once you believe you can beat somebody, it makes it easier, as long as you don’t take them for granted.” Sweeping her first six matches of the season, including the victory over Smith, earned Nederlander the title of OC Varsity Athlete of the Week for Sept. 20.

“I just think [her game is] a little bit different this year. It’s kind of just clicking,” said her mother Dawn Levine.

“It’s nice because she’s put all that work into it.” Levine credits Horton with her daughter’s continued improvement.

Nederlander, who went to private school before enrolling at LBHS, looked forward to patrolling the baseline for her hometown Breakers.

“It wasn’t ever even a question,” said Levine. “Taylor’s always wanted to play for Laguna.”

Last year, the 14-year-old rookie, who has been playing the game competitively since fourth grade, earned a spot on an experienced varsity squad laden with upper classmen. She would Quickly prove herself worthy by filling the number two singles hole behind third team all-CIF senior Madeline Jaeger.

As the only freshman on the team last year, Nederlander admits to being nervous about performing up to expectations, whether real or perceived.

“This year I think I’m more comfortable playing in front of people and playing for my team,” she said.

She didn’t appear uncomfortable last year, racking up 19 victories against 11 losses, and earning all Orange Coast League honors. If not for a serious bout with the flu, Nederlander would most likely have played her teammate Jaeger for the individual league title.

Between high school classrooms and courts, Nederlander finds time to play USTA tournaments around the country.

As of Sept. 19, she was ranked 45th in southern California 16s and 237th in the nation. She enjoys traveling to different places and meeting and playing some of the country’s top talent. She also likes being part of a team and has begun to embrace her role as a leader and number one player.

“She knows it’s an honor to be the number one girl,” said Levine. “She doesn’t take it lightly.” “[Being a leader is] easier when you’re a senior and a junior; it just is.

But if you’re the best player on the team as a sophomore, you know, it’s tougher,” said Horton, who added, “I think it’s a good challenge, and I think she’ll be fine.”

Nederlander’s early season success will be a target for future opponents.

“Now that she’s out there, she can’t hide,” said Horton.

Not even half way through her high school career, Nederlander envisions herself playing tennis in college. Her talents already have drawn the interest of several division I schools. For the moment, though, her focus is on leading her team to a league championship and a berth in CIF post-season play.

“I’m hoping we win a couple of rounds,” she said.
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