Leslie Finds Confidence on the Court
You don’t have to watch Corona del Mar sophomore Caylan Leslie play to realize she’s become a more confident player. You can hear it when she speaks in her Newport Beach drawl.
The girls’ high school tennis season has not yet begun and Leslie is already talking big.
“I want to play Nina [Vaughan, also of Corona del Mar] in the CIF [Southern Section individual] finals and win CIF as a team,” Leslie says in a dialect that sounds more Southern than Southern California. “Those are my two goals.”
Later in the conversation, she remembers another.
“I want to go undefeated this season,” said Leslie, who went 56-9 last year. “Why not? Why not just go for everything?”
That throw-caution-to-the-wind attitude is what carried her to her greatest victory this summer, a 6-4, 6-4 victory over Katia Bogomolva, the nation’s second-ranked player in the girls’ 16s, in the United States Tennis Assn. national hardcourts in San Diego last month.
“I had a real strong feeling going into the match,” Leslie said. “But then I shanked my serve so bad it hit the back fence. I think she thought [the match] was going to be a joke. I laughed to take the pressure off a little bit.”
From there, Leslie put the pressure on Bogomolva with an aggressive baseline game. She ended the second-round upset with a forehand winner down the line.
“When I hit that shot, that was the greatest feeling I’ve had,” Leslie said. “That victory gave me a lot of confidence. It was really an emotional match for me. It was about breaking through and letting people know I’m serious about this, letting myself know I can play with them and that I’m good enough to beat the good players.”
Leslie didn’t always believe she was good enough and she didn’t always take tennis so seriously.
“I played soccer and tennis,” she said. “I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I was just having fun.”
A torn Achilles’ tendon kept Leslie off the tennis courts for most of her seventh grade season. When she returned to the court full-time, Leslie kept her soccer cleats in the closet.
“Each year, I’ve gotten more serious about tennis,” Leslie said.
And each summer she travels to the South to play junior tennis tournaments, her drawl becomes more pronounced.
“I make fun of people and their accents down there,” she said. “In Texas, I kept saying ‘Y’all this, Y’all that.’ I guess I pick up a lot of accents. People don’t believe me when I say I’m from Newport Beach. I think I’m the only person from Southern California with an accent.”
Corona del Mar Coach Tim Mang said Leslie’s accent lately has been on her power game.
“She’s becoming stronger, and she’s hitting more winners than before,” Mang said. “She’s coming to the net and hitting the big ball.”
If she is getting stronger, Leslie said she isn’t doing so by design.
“I have no clue how I’m hitting it harder,” she said. “I don’t work out at all. I don’t lift weights. I feel so manly lifting weights. I don’t want to get big muscles, but I’m sure it would help my game.”
Leslie has been getting plenty of help with her game lately from her two private coaches, Phil Dent and Robert Van’t Hof. Leslie has been working on her mental approach, her serve, her ground strokes and even her volleys.
“It’s a scary thing being up there at net, but I’m getting better,” she said.
Leslie has improved her all-around game well enough to earn the No. 2 singles spot on the Sea Kings this year.
“I really wanted to play No. 2,” she said. “Last year, I think I should have. I know it doesn’t really matter because we all play against the same people, but it matters to me.”
Tennis seems to matter a lot more to Leslie now, and her game has been the beneficiary.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)
PRESEASON TOP 10
1. Corona del Mar
Will talent live up to expectations?
2. Dana Hills
Tantee sisters lead a deep group.
Div. III champ moves up to Div. I.
4. Newport Harbor
Will be tested by brutal schedule.
5. Mater Dei
Esmero leads seven returning starters.
6. Capistrano Valley
Nine starters back from 17-5 team.
7. Villa Park
Can it cope with end of DeVera era?
8. Laguna Beach
Artists are on their way back.
9. Laguna Hills
Reached Division III quarters last year.
10. Los Alamitos
Return eight from 10-0 league season.
Players to Watch
* Jennifer Bailey, Capistrano Valley, singles, So.
* Katey Becker, Villa Park, singles, Sr.
* Etel Bugescu, University, singles, So.
* Cerissa Drumm, Edison, singles, Sr.
* Melissa Esmero, Mater Dei, singles, So.
* Adriana Hockicko, Woodbridge, singles, So.
* Danielle Hustedt, Woodbridge, singles, Jr.
* Arpi Kojian, Villa Park, singles, Fr.
* Caylan Leslie, Corona del Mar, singles, So.
* Susanna Lingman, Woodbridge, singles, Fr.
* Leigh Ann Merryman, Capistrano Valley, singles, So.
* Erica Nelson, Newport Harbor, singles, Sr.
* Margaux Pierog, Dana Hills, singles, Sr.
* Jessica Prause, Laguna Hills, singles, Jr.
* Kate Romm, Dana Hills, singles, So.
* Veronica Sommer, Los Amigos, singles, So.
* Brooke Taylor, Newport Harbor, singles, Sr.
* Nadia Vaughan, Corona del Mar, singles, So.
* Nina Vaughan, Corona del Mar, singles, Sr.
Century: Villa Park; Empire: El Dorado; Freeway: Sunny Hills; Garden Grove: Garden Grove; Golden West: Rosary; Olympic: Brethren Christian; Orange: Brea Olinda; Pacific Coast: Laguna Beach; Sea View: Corona del Mar; South Coast: Dana Hills; Sunset: Los Alamitos.
Nov. 13, 15, 18, 20 and 24, Southern Section team playoffs; Nov. 22, Dec. 4-5, Southern Section individual playoffs.
1996 Final Poll
1. Woodbridge; 2. Newport Harbor; 3. Corona del Mar; 4. Villa Park; 5. Dana Hills; 6. El Dorado; 7. Rosary; 8. Mater Dei; 9. Capistrano Valley; 10. Garden Grove.
Faye DeVera--The Times Orange County three-time player of the year who is at Arizona State--is gone, but Villa Park Coach Sue Gardiner said she might have a better team without her. Arpi Kojian, “a hard hitter with a pretty good all-around game,” is one of four freshmen in Gardiner’s top 12. “We’re going to be deep,” she said. “It’s hard to tell how talented until we come up against a good team.” . . . Woodbridge will also have to fill a void at the top with the graduation of Natalie Exon, a two-time semifinalist at the Southern Section individuals who is playing at UC Irvine. The arrival of freshman Susanna Lingman should help Coach Joan Willett, whose teams have won three section titles--two boys and a girls--since 1995.