She thought it was fun.
Jordan Shirley was introduced to the sport of tennis in kindergarten, and nearly a decade later she would win 80 percent of her matches at the interscholastic level as a freshman.
The Lady Manta Ray is the Charlotte Sun Girls Tennis Player of the Year.
When she entered high school, there was no doubt that Shirley would be a fixture on the tennis team at Lemon Bay, it’s the only sport she’s ever played, and with good reason, she loves it. Her passion for the game is palpable.
However, she loves that tennis is a mental game, and that approach has been extremely beneficial each time she takes the court.
It was at the suggestion of her parents, who didn’t play, that Shirley first picked up a tennis racquet, playing initially with her two childhood best friends at the Englewood Tennis Club.
It was from those nascent stages that she began to evolve as an athlete, one with great promise and potential, and would begin to separate from her peers when she reached 11 years of age.
During the past three years, Shirley’s game has improved markedly, redolent of an athlete who possesses the ability to take her game to the next level. Shirley’s primary coach is Pancho Williams, who’s based at the Boca Royale Golf and Country Club in Englewood, who she works with when she’s not playing for Lemon Bay.
“I’ve been working on my normal ground strokes, but now that I have that pretty locked down, I have to do a lot more volleys and serves,” said Shirley. “Before tournaments, I just go out with my coach, and have to practice everything, but mostly serves and ground strokes to get me ready to play.”
It’s Shirley’s equanimity, the ability to keep her composure, while engaging in action on the court, that’s made people take notice. It’s her steady demeanor that’s played a significant role in her success.
Tennis is part of her daily routine, something that she does year round.
Shirley’s commitment to the sport and passion for playing serve as the impetus to improve her skill set, possessing an inherent ability to keep her emotions in check.
“Over the summer, I play twice a day, for two or three hours each time,” said Shirley. “Summer is the most beneficial time to get better. That’s when I make the most progress.”
However, it’s not only Shirley’s mental toughness that has enabled her to evolve as a player, but she’s one of the smartest players on the court, watching other players, learning through observation and then applying the tangibles and intangibles to her game that make her a formidable force, when engaging the opposition.
“I have to warm up while I’m playing, and get used to how they play, so I can see how I can go about winning and identify what their weaknesses are,” said Shirley.
“I have a pretty steady approach and keep calm mostly and don’t want to get too aggressive, like a lot of the girls that I’ve seen. I stay pretty calm on the court, keep my head in place, and I’m always thinking about how I can win the point and where I should hit the ball. I play very defensively.”
Shirley made her presence felt immediately, securing the no. one position on the Lady Manta Rays roster.
“She came in as a freshman; I had a few returning girls,” said Darrell Roach, Lemon Bay girls tennis coach. “I wasn’t sure what we were going to have this year when the season started. I knew my no. 2 was back, Siena Berger as a sophomore, she was no. 2 the year before as a freshman, and being familiar with our community, I knew Jordan played tennis, and I had both her parents in class, which isn’t unusual now, when you’ve been teaching 39 years.”
The impact Shirley made was definitive and she found her place on the Lady Mantas, exceeding expectations and claiming the no. 1 position with authority and a fierce desire to win, cementing her place in Lemon Bay lore.
“As I saw her hit, I thought this girl can challenge near the top, and low and behold, after many challenge matches between everybody, I did a full round robin tournament amongst all the girls that are trying out,” said Roach. “Jordan was clearly number one.”
It was Shirley’s consistent and level headed play at districts that provided the Lady Mantas with four points, with her victories in singles and doubles, en route to earning the team’s Most Valuable Player award.
However, it’s Shirley’s steadiness and her ability to keep her emotions in check that has clearly played a pivotal role in her evolution, staying strong mentally and maintaining her focus going forward, paving the way for a bright future.
“She’s obviously disappointed when she loses something,” said Roach. “She’s able to bounce back from that and puts it in perspective. I’ve had other players in the past, they’re down in the doldrums, and it’s just the end of the world. She’s disappointed, but she knows there’s going to be another game and that it’s a game. She’s improving and we’ve worked on parts of her game. So, I expect her to only improve as she gets older. She’s that kind of kid that’s going to keep working hard at it.”
It’s Shirley’s maturity and civic-mindedness that has made her a leader on and off the court, with an altruistic spirit and selflessness that belies her age. She likes helping others and participated in a all-girl sports camp at Lemon Bay, where elementary and middle school students go through a rotation of different sports that the the high school offers, giving them an idea of what discipline they might be interested in trying out for when they start at the high school level, said Roach.
“She was one of the volunteers that came into help out,” said Roach. “That’s the kind of kid she is.”
Balancing tennis with school can be a challenge, but Shirley’s discipline and mental makeup enable the Lady Manta to successfully meet the demands of her schedule, and live a well-rounded life.
“It’s a lot to handle; when I come home from school, I do homework for two hours, and go to practice for two hours, then come home and finish my homework,” said Shirley.
“I hang out with my family and friends on the weekend. I normally play tennis for two hours on Saturday, but other than that, I really don’t play over the weekend, and that’s when I hang out with my friends and family.”
Shirley is concentrating on being the best player she can be for Lemon Bay, understanding the responsibility that comes with being an athlete and representing her area and the community.
Competing against more challenging players in the summer has its advantages, said Shirley.
“It definitely brings me back to reality,” said Shirley. “Playing against my team, and coming off a good season leaves you over confident. Playing against the players I do over the summer, makes you realize you need to improve and get better. It definitely helps your game because you’re playing against people who are better than you.”