There’s still a year to go in her high school career, but junior Michelle Torres already has a firm foothold on her place in the annals of Lamar tennis.
“She’s the best player we’ve had at Lamar high school, and we’ve had some good ones,” Lamar tennis coach Courtney Monroe said. “But she’s the best we’ve ever had.”
Tennis records in Arlington can be a little sketchy — not as meticulously chronicled as football history — but Torres’ recent run at the Region I meet in Lubbock is unrivaled in Arlington tennis history in more than a decade.
“Her results in Lubbock were the best for a singles player in Arlington probably since ’99, and the best girls finish in a little longer than that, the mid-90s, probably,” Monroe said.
And yet, as great as her showing was, Torres had greater hopes than finishing third in a loaded region. After blowing past her early opponents in blustery conditions, the No. 3 seed Torres reached the semifinals against top-seeded Kelley Anderson of Southlake Carroll.
Although Torres fell to Anderson, she had reason to believe she’d still have a shot at a top two finish and a berth in the state tournament. If form had held and Anderson had won the final match, Torres who have earned a playback match against No. 2 Riley Reeves of Richland to determine the tournament’s second-place winner.
Instead, the No. 2 seed Reeves pulled the upset. “We were expecting playback the whole time,” Monroe said. “This is the biggest upset I’ve ever seen.”
Torres regularly faces Reeves and Anderson, who are friends of hers, in tourneys throughout the tennis season. She felt like her knowledge of Reeves’ game would’ve made a win in a playback match a tremendous possibility. Still, Torres can be proud of what she accomplished at regionals.
“I was upset, but I’d done the most I could do,” Torres said. “My freshman year I made quarters of regionals. Sophomore year I got fourth place. This year I finished third. I am doing better every year. Now I’m hoping next year I’ll do one better and go to state.”
Her teammates have noticed that along with tremendous talent, Torres shows a strong will to compete. “She gets down but it doesn’t get to her,” sophomore Anoosha Mardani said. “She won’t give up.”
Making the next step to state won’t be easy, Torres’ coach concedes. The coach might not know what players his star player might face next season, but what he does know is that Torres works hard to get better. The mental game is an area in which she has particularly improved, Monroe said.
“The difference between good and great is up here,” Monroe said, pointing to his forehead. “That’s a great shot, but why did you hit the ball over there when you could have hit it more easily over there? Everybody can hit good balls. When you get to the elite levels, can you hit a succession of good shots and win points?”
Torres said she’s had to learn that there’s more to the game than just smacking the ball as hard as she can. “I was kind of one-dimensional when I got here,” she said.
She’s picked up a lot of the nuances of the game by playing in challenging amateur tournaments. This summer, she’ll play in The Grand Slam tournament in June in College Station. And just like last summer, Torres will travel south of the equator to play in two tournaments on clay in Colombia, where her father Carlos, a former UT-Arlington standout and coach, hails from.
Playing in high altitudes on a clay surface, where sliding rather than stopping on a dime is a part of the game, took a lot of getting used to. “I had to completely change my game,” Torres said. “I had to plan for the slide.”
Dealing with clay, though, wasn’t the biggest adjustment that Torres faced in the South American tournaments. In U.S. tournaments, rain prompts delays in tournaments. But at the first tournament in Colombia, it did not.
“In the middle of point in the first match, I’m serving with the rain in my eyes,” Torres said.
Those eyes are focused on summer tournaments and one more run at a state tournament, and beyond that, a successful college career. “And I couldn’t do it without coach Monroe,” Torres added. “He’s shown tremendous patience and support.”
Spoken like a true once-in-a-generation Arlington tennis player.