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SHERIDAN — It’s pretty easy to understand how good Julia Fenn is at tennis.
As is the case with many great athletes, the roots of her fast ascendancy aren’t hard to trace, either.
The Sheridan High School sophomore repeated as 4A state tennis champion for the Lady Broncs at No. 1 singles last week, completing another season in which she went untouched, not losing a match.
Love of sport at times transitions quite simply into success.
“Her desire and work ethic,” SHS tennis coach Bob Faurot explained what makes her so good. “She just loves tennis. She’s out there as often as she can be. She’s one that would prefer longer practices.”
For Fenn, her game started by playing as much as she could. Beginning her tennis career as many Sheridanites do, she started around age 7 under the tutelage of Lorna Brooks.
But a drive toward improving all by herself was a big part of what made her so good in the individual sport. On her own, she calls around when she needs someone to hit with, even reaching out to adults, Faurot said, admitting this was not something he had seen many high school kids do in the past.
Fenn’s parents, John and Armella, take her to towns that have indoor facilities in the winter months. In the summer, her mom hits with her sometimes two-to-six hours per day after work.
“I love to practice, it’s just fun,” Fenn said. “I’ll always come out with intensity. I don’t like to go to practice and just hit. I think that’s one of the reasons I’m there is to get better.”
This year, she’s progressed so far that she practiced with Reed Ritterbusch and Adam Berry, needing the pace of two upperclassmen on the boys team to prevent a plateau in her game.
Her dominance of 4A tennis over the past two years speaks for itself, and the question has become not when but if someone gets in her way by the time she’s done at SHS. Fenn defeated Lucia Cho of Laramie 6-1, 6-0 in last week’s No. 1 singles state title match.
“I think it was easier in a way because I had played last year and I had more experience,” Fenn admitted this season’s run being less challenging than it was when she was a freshman in 2012. “This year I was a lot more focused on what I wanted to do with each point. I wanted to hit with a purpose and intent. That was my main goal.”
Faurot said last year at times the goal was winning, -0, -0, not losing a game — something she’s done plenty of times — and this year evolved into working on the details during a match, even if that meant dropping a game or two. But not many, she lost only 11 in the regular season this fall, and just two last week at state in Gillette.
That purposed approach resulted in something of a walkthrough her first two years of high school undefeated. As a freshman, she admitted she was a little intimidated, but this year — to the dismay of the rest of the state — she used that instead as a motivator.
“I also felt that I knew what to expect, coming into state, I wasn’t nervous,” she said. “Last year I was a freshman, I didn’t know my bearings, but this year I had so much support. That really helped as well.”
“You tell her to do something and she does it,” Faurot said. “‘Aim a little closer to the line,’ and she can. How she does that I don’t know, but it’s nice to have that.”
He added that this year they even got to the point that Fenn would come up with her own gameplan before matches, run it by her coach, and usually it lined up with what Faurot was going to tell her.
Even as a sophomore Fenn was the SHS team leader for the boys and the girls on the squad. The team held hands prior to duals while Fenn led them in a prayer.
“They all look to her,” Faurot said. “Like any leader, people just want to be around her. She always tries to include everyone. I don’t think I’ve ever heard her say a negative thing about anyone, and I’ve never heard her complain about anything. It’s really unusual to have as just a sophomore, but she’s great to have around and a positive influence on the team,” he said.
All that coupled with such mastery on the court.
Fenn’s latest title win alluded to her unwavering status as well ahead of the rest of the field, but Faurot said he expects Cho, just a freshman, as one to give her a fight for that top spot next year. No player has ever won four consecutive state tennis titles in Wyoming, and plenty of factors will play into her chances of making history.
“They have indoor courts, she loves it so she will work hard,” Fenn said of Cho, explaining that it is tougher to find places to train in the winter in Sheridan.
“She’s athletic, and her parents really help her a lot,” Fenn added. “It might be harder next year because the coaches have seen my play now a little bit more so they might be able to try to tweak others to try and beat me.”
Ritterbusch’s two years atop No. 1 boys singles closely mirrored Fenn’s run, and the two worked together to get there. Ritterbusch won the boys No. 1 singles title as a junior then finished runner-up last week.
“I hit a lot with Reed, we really push each other,” Fenn said. “We go off each other’s strengths and make each other better. He’s just such a kind person, for a teenage boy, he’s so nice. I really enjoyed getting to play with him. I admire him as an athlete.”
An uncommon problem, Faurot said, it has become more and more difficult to find someone to push Fenn’s skills as Ritterbusch graduates this year. Even through the unprecedented run, Fenn says she knows there’s things she can improve.
“It’s so mental, I’m amazed how mental it is,” she said of tennis. “That’s one reason why I love it, it’s like a chess game.
“I love to see what my opponent does and I love to counteract it,” she explained. “Focus is probably the biggest thing I have to work on. Mentally there’s so much going on at high school matches because you’re allowed to cheer. I love the crowd, they can get into it, but I need to focus and place the ball where I want to and not get distracted.”
She played basketball and soccer last year, still playing tennis twice a week from 6-7:30 a.m. before school, traveling to Billings, Gillette, Casper, Cheyenne and Laramie with her parents in the offseason.
“They’ve sacrificed so much to let me go play and do what I love,” she reiterated. “People in this community are so generous, too. So many people have helped me along the way.”
Such commitment seems destined for college athletics, which Fenn says is her eventual goal.
“I would really love to play college tennis, especially Wyoming would be a dream come true because I’ve grown up watching their team,” she said. “I really am open to any school that I could go play at. Of course, academics come first, so I’d have to make sure that the level of academics would match the level of athletic intensity. I’d just have to find the right fit.”
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