Heidi Swope, Weddington’s reigning tennis power, first picked up a tennis racket by happenstance when she was 6 years old. It wasn’t long before the sport transformed her into one of the areas most competitive players.
She’s already grabbed two state championship rings through her junior season, but she has no plans to stop building on her success.
“I started playing when I was 6 after a friend invited me to a clinic,” Swope explained. “I had tried every single sport in the book – gymnastics, soccer, softball – really every sport, but hadn’t found something I actually like. Once I picked up a racket, it just stuck with me.”
Swope and doubles’ partner Emma Yates demolished opponents during last year’s season, earning an undefeated record and trip to the Class 3A state doubles’ championship. The duo faced Charlotte Catholic’s Grace Deering and Rachel Tomchin, and rallied back from a 4-6 first-set loss to take the title in the next two sets, winning 6-1, 6-3.
But even with a state championship clinched as a sophomore, Swope wasn’t looking to slow down. This year, after another successful regular season, Swope seized the opportunity to compete in the tournament as a singles’ player. She dominated the playoffs, taking the Southern Carolinas conference title, 3A Western Regional title and the pinnacle of high school sports – the 3A state championship singles’ crown.
“Winning the state championship was one of those surreal moments,” said Swope, who has now earned the distinction of becoming the 2013 Union County Weekly Girls Tennis Player of the Year.
“It’s completely different, winning doubles, than it is singles. Last year we were the complete underdogs and winning was a huge accomplishment. Being able to do the same thing by myself was something that I’ve wanted all three years in high school. I don’t train for doubles; I train for singles. So winning as a singles’ player was a huge accomplishment for me.”
Swope didn’t just win the 3A title – she took it by storm. Swope faced Sarah Jiang, the No. 1 seed from Cox Mill, who was the 3A state singles’ runner-up from last season and seventh-ranked player in the state in the class of 2016, according to Tennisrecruiting.net. The duo squared off in the regional round, where Swope came away with the win and went into the state championship match with enough confidence to secure a nearly effortless 6-3, 6-0 victory.
“I played Sarah in the regional final and beat her there,” Swope said. “I watched her play in the state semi-finals against a girl from Asheville, so I knew going into it what to expect. I was always a little bit in her head. I had played her before and she just couldn’t seem to figure out what to do against me. I knew going into it that I was probably going to have the upper hand.”
Swope played as the Warriors’ No. 1 seed for the first time this season and, in addition to her success in singles, was instrumental in Weddington’s dual team run. The Warriors advanced to the 3A state championship match but couldn’t overcome Cardinal Gibbons in the championship.
Despite the loss, Swope said she couldn’t be more proud of her teammates and the way she played, handing the Crusaders their lone loss as she easily defeated Devin Knors, 6-0, 6-0.
“I knew going into the match that the competition was going to be pretty tough because I knew that most of the girls were tournament players,” she said. “The thing that separates players comes down to experience. It’s about match play and knowing what to do in pressure situations. Even though we lost, making it to the finals was a huge accomplishment because we’ve never done that especially since I’ve been in school.
“I was absolutely not disappointed in my team because of the way that we went out and competed. Every single person that played gave a good match. For me, I’ve played so many tournaments that just going in and having the right state of mind, I knew I couldn’t take anyone lightly, no matter who I played. Knowing that helped me perform.”
With Swope already earning three nearly perfect seasons, she’s looking forward to what next year has to offer.
“I would really like to be state champion again,” she said. “I definitely want to strive for that again.”