San Dieguito Academy girls tennis standout Jennifer Kerr was the 2015 San Diego Section individual champion, just won the league singles title, is seeded No. 1 and expected to play for her second straight section crown Nov. 11 and is ranked in the top 50 in the U.S. among high school seniors.
But for the 2016 Mustangs — a squad that reached the quarterfinals of the SDS team Division I tournament — Kerr’s most important role is mentor.
“Jen is a great leader,” SDA coach Joe Tomasi said of the Columbia-bound senior standout. “I’ve never met a high school student that has been more humble with all of her success.
“For us, she’s the leader, the big sister, she’s everything to (this team). The girls look up to her … they respect her.”
Kerr’s leadership was key as the young Mustangs played with no other seniors in their starting lineup, had a freshman (Kennedy Urcelay) and sophomore (Lanie Weingarten) rounding out their singles trio, and a pair of ninth-graders (Lauren Bear and Leko Richie) at No. 2 doubles.
With that lineup, and despite facing much tougher competition in league play upon entering the Avocado West this season, the Mustangs (7-8) finished 6-4 in conference matches to take third place.
SDA defeated Mt. Carmel, 11-7, in the first round of the section playoffs, then gave top-seeded and eventual champion La Jolla a tough quarterfinal match before falling 11-7.
“The girls really did a great job this year,” Tomasi explained. “(Against La Jolla), we were going back and forth, we had a chance to beat them. We were right there with them.
“Honestly, I didn’t think we were going to be as competitive as we were this year, and (the fact that we were) had a lot to do with my young kids playing well.”
After using the early-season matches to figure out each Mustang player’s strengths, Tomasi put Urcelay in his singles lineup.
“(Urcelay) was a superstar,” Tomasi said. “I can’t replace Jen Kerr (next season) but I have people that are going to step in for sure, and Kennedy is one of those girls.”
Richie was originally playing singles but then moved to doubles, where she teamed with Bear to form a duo that consistently won two of its three sets each match.
With that pair playing at No. 2, junior Sophia Zhu and sophomore Amber Tse handled No. 1 doubles duties and two juniors (Sabrina Lin and Maddi Sadoff) and sophomore Sophie Getty platooned in the No. 3 position for SDA.
With that much youth in the lineup, the Mustangs got better as the season progressed.
“The young players, especially the freshmen, were a little nervous about the season, because some of them hadn’t been exposed to (varsity high school tennis),” Kerr said. “A big part for me was just to talk to them, calm them down, tell them it’s not life or death, it’s just a match.
“And they did well. It took them a little while to get started but after they got going they found a groove.”
Kerr’s contributions came on the court as well, as she dominated singles play throughout the season. She showed her incredible skill in last week’s Avocado League singles tournament, rolling through her five matches (10 sets) with a total of two games lost.
And though Kerr is a beast on the court, it is her off the court demeanor that has coaches around the section buzzing.
“When we go to (CIF postseason matches), everybody knows her and everybody likes her,” Tomasi said. “She’s brought a lot of success to the school, SDA is on the tennis map. She’s done a lot for this school.”