Tennis and family have always been synonymous for Jill Damion.
The Corona del Mar High senior learned from her mother growing up. She watched as her sister, Leslie, four years her elder, went undefeated her senior year at Corona del Mar and won her second consecutive CIF Southern Section Division IV title.
Damion's mother and sister have competed twice in national mother-daughter tournaments.
And, as Damion, who is 25-2 on the year, leads the Sea Kings to a 17-0 record, she keeps a close eye on her brother, Chris, a junior on the boys' tennis team.
Now, in her fourth year as a varsity singles player, the Daily Pilot Athlete of the Week is helping to bring the family atmosphere to a Sea Kings team that is half seniors and half freshmen and sophomores.
"The seniors have to really invite the freshmen to be a part of their world," CdM Coach Brian Ricker said.
It started with an agreement between coach and player. Damion needed a flexible schedule to work around her regular tournament play on weekends and Ricker wanted a close-knit team.
The plan went against what Damion had been the previous three years at Corona del Mar.
"In the first week, she didn't want anything to do with them. She'll admit, she doesn't like freshman," Ricker said.
But then came change.
"The next week, they're putting bags in her car," Ricker said. "All the seniors have involved the freshmen. Jill does it in a different way. The others do it on the court, but Jill isn't there all the time. But, she's giving them rides home all the time. She invites them out to dinner even if the whole team isn't going out to dinner."
Ricker said a strong tennis and family background is a reason why Damion creates a bond among different classes, where other teams might splinter off.
"She's willing to hit with her brother and that's unique," Ricker said. "There aren't many No. 1 players who will step onto the court with a lower-level player and warm them up. She doesn't act like she is better than the other players, even though she is."
Damion herself has noticed a change this year.
"As I've gotten older, I've cared more about winning," Damion said. "Not just about me, I really want the team to do well."
Behind Damion's play, top-ranked CdM has defeated four of the six teams trailing them in the CIF Southern Section Division I rankings.
The Sea Kings go for number five against fifth-ranked Palos Verdes Monday at CdM.
Last week, the Sea Kings were the hosts to the All-American Tournament, which featured top teams from around the state. Winning the tournament added a notch to their belt when they defeated Troy in the championship, 5-4, Oct. 14.
"There is a sense of pride to know we're tops in the state," Damion said.
Damion said her key to the constant tennis the fall brings, with Corona del Mar's heavy workload during the week and tournaments on weekends, is to keep setting goals.
"Before I even lost, it was about going undefeated," Damion said. "That's the way I get excited."
Playing tournaments, which can call for up to three three-set matches in a day, as well as doubles the next day, has helped to build her stamina for the grind of the season.
"It made it so I don't get tired in the set," she said.
Despite the excellent stamina, don't expect Damion to go charging around the court diving for shots.
"I'd rather just hit a winner and end it," she said. "I love my forehand. I hit more winners with it. I'm more aggressive that way."
Family is also a key motivation. She has the edge on her younger brother and wants it to remain that way. She also has an eye on a CIF championship ring to match her sister.
"She's brought her championship up the last couple of years when we lost," Damion said.
As for her brother â€¦
"We hit a lot," she said. "He hits the ball really hard. But, mentally he just can't beat me because he gets too excited. He tries too hard because he wants to beat me so bad. I would like to play him one more time, beat him and then stop. He's getting too strong."
At the same time she knows a championship is within her grasp, she still is looking out for her brother.
"I want him to win one too," Damion said. "I doubt there are many families where all of the children have CIF championships."