CHATHAM, NJ - Heather Ivans is a pioneer when it comes to high school platform tennis, helping co-found the Chatham High School Paddle Club two years ago.
She's also been promoting the sport by holding paddle clinics for Chatham Middle School students for two years and updating the Chatham Board of Education on the growing popularity of the sport.
The Chatham High sophomore can now point to the example she is setting on the court for students her age since she is ranked No. 1 nationally in the 18-year-old age group.
Last weekend at Centercourt in Chatham, Ivans and and her partner, Stephanie Maluso of New Providence, won the inaugural Chatham High School Junior National Ranking Tournament sponsored by the American Platform Tennis Association (APTA). Ivans and Maluso went undefeated to win the title and earn their No. 1 national ranking. There are six ranking tournaments held nationwide for juniors.
Heather Ivans is the Hawk Allstate Chatham Athlete of the Week.
Ivans, who founded the CHS Paddle Club along with her older brother, Paul, and Colin Schroeder, has been competing in the co-ed sport since she was nine. Because so few girls her age play the sport, she has been thrown into competition with her male counterparts.
"She's not intimidated," Patty Hogan, APTA Hall of Famer and Heather's coach, said. "She has become a really strong screen player. Her two best things - because she plays against boys all the time- is that she's not afraid and she's a really good defensive player. It's not about power. The screens mitigate that."
Ivans plays soccer in the fall and golf in the spring, but her favorite sport in the winter is paddle.
"It's fun to be able to do something outdoors other than skiing," Ivans said. "Every other sport in the winter is indoors. You can play in the snow or in the dead of winter (the courts are heated to keep the snow off). I've played in all kinds of weather.
"I also like that you meet a ton of new people by competing in tournaments. Because of paddle, I know people from all over."
Platform Tennis, nicknamed Paddle, is scored just like tennis, but it has the added strategy of playing balls off the screens on the sides and back of the court. Players who hit the ball hard have to contend with the cerebral screen players - like Ivans.
"I'm usually the more defensive player, the calmer player," the 15-year-old said. "I don't usually try and win the point right away. Over the years, I've been able to shield myself better from hits right at me. I like that the sport is so different.
"There is room for error. If you mess up in paddle, you have a chance to get if off the screens. It's slower than other sports I play, but there is more technique involved. It teaches you patience. It's also definitely a mental game. You can win a whole match without trying to slam it and just place the ball."
Ivans likes the idea of playing a sport that can last a lifetime. She's also trying to set the stage for an official high school team by teaching middle school students how to play the game. To that end, she's been part of clinics that have introduced the sport to 120 kids.
"Starting to learn isn't that difficult," Ivans said. "Once you learn, you can play the rest of your life and you're only going to get better."
Ivans learned how mental the game can be when she competed in a tournament alongside her mother.
"The more experienced players will take note of everything you do and try to take advantage of any weakness in your game," she said. "That's another mental aspect of it."
Ivans will be competing in the Junior Nationals set for March 4 and 5 being held at Short Hills and Canoe Brook.
Editor's note: The Hawk Allstate Chatham Athlete of the Week is sponsored by the John Hawk Agency. John and his team have been protecting local families and business owners for over 12 years. Call them at 973-635-9494 for a new auto, home, life and business insurance quote this week and if you mention the Hawk Allstate Chatham Athlete of the Week they will make a $20 contribution to the Chatham Booster Club! To learn more, visit the agency website.