BEACON FALLS — If you asked Megan Wester a year ago, when the 2009 Woodland girls’ tennis season was just starting up, if she thought she’d be a contender in the Naugatuck Valley League tournament, she probably would have laughed at you—or just blushed and insisted she didn’t possess the prowess to hang with the league’s top players.
But last June, as a sophomore, Wester proved she had the skills to take home a bronze medal. She upset Naugatuck’s Meghan Toth, the tourney’s No. 2 seed, buried Watertown’s Helena Bartolomeo and took out Holy Cross’s Angelica Pecci on her way to the number-three spot.
“I was happy as a sophomore just to be in the tournament,” Wester said recently. “My parents would be telling me ‘You’ve got to win, you’ve got to try harder,’ and I was fine with losing. If I had lost, I would have already been so happy to be there.”
Coach Mike Magas, filling in this year for Jessica DeGennaro, who is on maternity leave, said Wester’s unexpected victories as a sophomore were a testament to her budding talent—especially since high school athletes don’t typically come out of their shells until they’re upperclassmen.
“You see a big change in kids when they go from freshman and sophomores to juniors and seniors,” Magas said. “There’s a big line that separates the underclassmen from upperclassmen. Once you get there, you take on the aura that, ‘Hey, I’m one of the leaders of this team now. I’ve got to perform.’ … It happens to all athletes.”
Wester confirmed Magas’ hypothesis, adding, “I remember as a freshman and sophomore thinking that I almost didn’t want to be the best, like try my hardest, because I felt like I’d be upshowing an upperclassman. And I didn’t want to do that, because I’m younger, and I thought they wouldn’t like me.”
Now that Wester’s crossed the class divide, she hopes to put up another good fight in the NVL tourney.
“I’m hoping that the conditions are right again, like they were last year, when it just kind of worked out,” she said. “There were some very tough players.”
Of beating Toth, who had recently ended Woodland ace Stephanie Badale’s bid for an undefeated regular season, Wester said, “I think it was just that I was having a good day; I was up from maybe winning the other matches. She maybe thought lower of me, that since I wasn’t ranked in the top four, I was an easy win; I have no idea. Maybe she was just having a bad day. ‘Cause she’s very good and it really shocked me.”
And consistency can’t hurt, when all the mitigating factors are running in your favor. As Badale noted, tennis is often about forcing an error on the other side and returning every ball.
“I’m good at forehands,” Wester said. “My serves are not strong; my backhands aren’t strong. I’m just consistent. I don’t really hit winners too often. … I always get it back and [my opponents are] usually the ones to mess up. That’s just how I play; I’m not very aggressive.”
That lack of aggression is part of what got her interested in tennis. Wester said she hasn’t played any other sport competitively, since she was a child.
“I like tennis ‘cause—it’s kind of embarrassing—‘cause it’s a non-contact sport,” she said. “I’m not a very physical ‘Get ‘em down, hit ‘em to the ground’ kind of person. … I don’t really like the physical part of other sports. I just like having to depend on myself to win my own game.”
It may seem strange, then, that the soft-spoken, self-assessed introspect likes dealing with people. She works as a waitress and hostess at Vespucci’s restaurant in Cheshire, and wants to pursue a humanities degree in college because she “likes talking to different people.”
She’s not yet sure whether she’ll pursue tennis in the wide world of college athletics.
“I don’t know if I’m at that level where they’re going to be like ‘Oh, she’s so good, let’s invite her to my college,’” she said.
Magas said she was selling herself short, and said he wanted to work on her confidence in the coming season.
“As a coach, teacher and parent, you meet a lot of kids and you kind of get to know personalities of kids and potentials of kids and so forth,” Magas said, “and I think Meg downplays her talent a little bit, because that’s her style. Because she is very good. Watching her play—she doesn’t know I’m watching, but I’m watching—you see when kids are hitting and the potential that they’ve got, and she’s got a lot of potential. She’s a great player, and she kind of underestimates her talent. … She has a chance to win the league.”