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San Dieguito Academy tennis program cheering new courts

Sophia Zhu returns a ball during play at the San Dieguito Academy courts.
( / Jared Whitlock)

For three years, the San Dieguito Academy tennis program was without a home.

With the school’s tennis courts ripped up for construction, players and coaches had to frequently fight afternoon traffic on Interstate 5 to make it to practices and games in Oceanside. Before this, they had to make do with cracked, sloped courts.

But two weeks ago, the tennis program cut the ribbon on six new courts, marking a new era for the SDA boys and girls tennis teams.

“Before, a lot of other students didn’t even know we have a tennis team,” said senior Alex Weingarten. “They can see us out here playing. There’s more school spirit.”

The cost of the courts was $1.2 million, paid for by the voter-approved Proposition AA school bond. To celebrate the Grand Opening, a doubles tournament for ages 12 and up is slated for 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Nov. 14 at the school (see end of article for more information).

‘Three-headed monster’ of coaching

Joe Tomasi, who has been the school’s tennis coach for nearly 20 years, said the past three years had been tough, given all the traveling to other courts. He believes the program’s three coaches, with 46 years of collective experience and a tight-knit bond, helped keep the program strong.

“It’s not uncommon that siblings who are years apart play for us,” Tomasi said. “The kids and their families get to know us. They know what we expect, they know our routine and they know how much we ask.”

Tomasi joked that he’s the “bad cop” of the coaches, with Knute Syvrud, who has been the assistant volunteer varsity coach for eight years, playing “good cop.” The two coaches even poked fun at the dynamic last year with shirts noting their respective reputations.

“He’s coming from a more fatherly angle, where I’m stricter about routines,” Tomasi said. Syvrud added with a laugh: “It’s a good combination.”

Junior Jennifer Kerr said the three coaches bring different perspectives and their personalities balance each other out. Kerr added the players, like the coaches, are close.

Deb Abrahamson, the JV tennis coach for 18 years and fitness instructor at SDA, adds a motherly touch to the coaching staff, players and other coaches agreed. She’s a part of what each of the coaches half-jokingly called a “three-headed monster” of coaching.

“We love it,” Abrahamson said. “We don’t know what we’d do with ourselves at 3:10 when the bell rings and we couldn’t come out on the tennis courts.”

She added the new courts are a major milestone for SDA tennis. Looking back at other significant moments, she noted the team has participated in breast cancer awareness events, such as Race for the Cure San Diego. Also, players wear pink in October to raise awareness.

“Wearing pink has caught on with other teams,” she said. “We’re proud of that.”

The tradition began as a way to honor Tomasi’s late sister, who died of breast cancer nearly a dozen years ago. In turn, Tomasi has been involved with breast cancer education. Notably, Tomasi and players have attended seminars at Scripps Hospital on the topic. That’s one reason the California Coaches Association recognized him a decade ago for his dedication to coaching and caring in the community.

“Her passing was very unfortunate, but it did happen, and a lot of people have done good things in the aftermath,” Tomasi said.

The SDA tennis program has won a number of league championships over the years, and Tomasi said the teams continue to get better. These days, the program can compete with the best schools in the area, he added.

“Kids are making the choice to come to SDA because of our program,” he said.

A Tacoma, Wash., native, he played tennis in college, but had to give it up after injuring his neck and left shoulder in a car accident. Being sidelined was difficult to stomach, but later, he discovered a passion for coaching.

“I love this,” he said. “Twenty years later, I’m still jumping up and down when good things happen on the court.”

He encouraged tennis enthusiasts and former players to attend the Nov. 14 doubles tournament. “We always like seeing people in the community and catching up with former players.”

Registration for the tournament is $35 if paid by Nov. 9, with proceeds benefiting the tennis program. Learn more at www.sdafoundation.com under the events tab. Contact clee032001@yahoo.com with questions.


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