BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - While COVID-19 wreaked havoc with fall sports, in what will be a year these students, especially the seniors, will never forget -- Gov. Livingston tennis senior co-captain Gretchen Pobst never lost her enthusiasm or spark for her sport.
Gov. Livingston head tennis coach Joey Panchenko said the pandemic, in one sense, had a positive impact on his team. The varsity players approached each match with enthusiasm and an eagerness to play. Each match was not to be taken for granted.
Coach Panchenko said Probst, as co-captain, is an inspiration to her teammates and leads by example. He was thrilled with Probst's improvement and mental maturity in the first singles court this season. "She really stepped it up and tried her best in matches." Tennis can be a game of mental strength, Gretchen's maturity kicked in and "I was happy to see it," he said.
Probst has played the first singles position since her junior year. "Playing first singles was definitely a little intimidating at first during my junior year and I felt some pressure being at the top spot and the first court where everyone watches," she said. "During stressful matches I focused really hard on just playing my best and getting every shot back. While I was playing I tried to ignore the fact that many people were watching so as not to let it distract or pressure me."
Maturity comes from experience. "With more experience and playing dozens of singles matches I have been able to learn strategies on how to beat my opponents. A big part of tennis is your mental game. I used to get frustrated and discouraged when I was not playing well but I now have a better attitude when I play my matches and control my mental game which helped me win multiple close matches this year," she said.
Coach Panchenko highlighted Probst's marquis win against New Providence -- showcasing her growth, maturity and determination. An opponent she never beat before, Gretchen kept it close in the first set and ran away with the second set, said Panchenko. "I always tell the girls to keep it close," he said.
Probst's most memorable high school match was her Cranford win which helped determine the match. "I lost the first set and then won the second set by not letting the first set affect my playing and discourage me. I had to play a third set to help determine if GL or Cranford would win the overall match," she said. "I knew I had to keep my momentum going which led me to win the third set 6-0 which meant I won my match! This was one of the best matches I have ever played because I kept a really positive attitude and just shook off any point I lost and moved on to win the next. I kept pumping myself up which helped me play really well and caused my opponent to become more defeated. My win was very crucial because it helped GL win 3-2 overall which was a very close and exciting match for all of us especially since Cranford was our hardest opponent this season."
The team finished 10-1, and Probst, at first singles, posted an 8-3 record overall.
For her leadership and contribution during this season, senior co-captain Gretchen Probst is named Valairco Heating and Cooling Highlander Athlete of the Week.
Gretchen took the time to answer the following questions:
TAPinto: When did you start playing tennis?
Gretchen: I started playing tennis in 2nd Grade with my co-captain, and best friend since preschool, Kelly McRae. I started with clinics at Murray Hill Tennis and fell in love with the sport and I have been playing ever since.
TAPinto: What is the strongest part of your game?
Gretchen: The strongest part of my game is probably my serve. Over the years it has become much harder and faster and is definitely something I can use to my advantage by making it hard for my opponent to return. With a strong serve I can occasionally ace my opponent which makes for an easy way to win the point. My serve has become more consistent as I make sure not to double fault.
TAPinto: How has your game changed?
Gretchen: I have been on Varsity for 4 years. I played 1st doubles freshman year and 2nd singles sophomore year. For the last two years I have played 1st Singles, so I have definitely become more confident in my game and have learned a lot. I used to have no strategy and just played based on instinct and how I knew to play best.
TAPinto: What is the best coaching advice you have received from Coach Panchenko?
Gretchen: During the matches Coach Panchenko helps all of us out by giving us strategies and ways to play our opponents. He is able to see things in my opponent that I am not able to identify while I am playing, so his advice by pointing out my opponent’s weaknesses is always beneficial.
TAPinto: Who inspires you the most?
Gretchen: My parents definitely inspire me most because they push me to my limits and always encourage me to play the best I can. They come to support me at many of my matches which is so special.
TAPinto: Did you train all year long for tennis? How do you train in the off season?
Gretchen: During the offseason I do winter clinics to keep up my playing and to stay in shape. Also, during the spring and summer I train with Coach Maria Mahon to get prepared for the season. It is important to continue playing outside the season, so I can improve and play even better the next season.
TAPinto: What is your favorite thing about GL?
Gretchen: My favorite thing about GL is all the opportunities available in academics and athletics. The course options are endless and I love the challenges that are available in the classroom which has really helped me grow as a student and a person. The opportunity to play tennis is something I really enjoy because the team is so special and I always miss playing once the season ends. Also, an honorable mention goes to the warm cookies in the cafeteria which I really miss.
TAPinto: How do you enjoy your time while not at school or playing tennis?
Gretchen: I spend my free time working at an alpaca farm on the weekends. I love this job because it is so unique and is very relaxing being on a farm. I also really enjoy watching TV, snuggling with my dogs, and hanging out with friends.
TAPinto: Where are you going to college and what are you studying?
Gretchen: I am still waiting for admissions decisions, so I do not know where I am attending yet. At college, I plan on studying nursing.
Valairco Heating & Cooling is the proud sponsor of the Highlander Athlete of the Week. Kevin McHugh, Valairco Owner and President and Berkeley Heights resident, is an alumnus of Gov. Livingston High School.
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