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Princeton senior Jen O’Neil is the 2013 NewsTribune Girls Tennis Player of the Year. She had an area-best .759 winning percentatge and qualified for the state tournament for the second year in a row. NewsTribune photo/Chris Yucus
The Jen O'Neil File
Had area-best .759 winning percentage
Won the La Salle-Peru Invitational and CoalâCity Quadrangular
PRINCETON — Jen O’Neil knew she wanted to be an athlete her freshman year at Princeton, but she didn’t know what she wanted to play.
She tried volleyball and soccer. Although one had a net and the other was outside, she didn’t find the sport she would want to excel in until she put them together.
“I was a volleyball player until freshman year and then coach (PHS freshman coach Beth) Peacock encouraged me to come out and play tennis,” O’Neil said. “I tried one day at the summer clinics and I really liked it. My parents were very encouraging about trying to help me get better and taking me to lessons.
“Eventually, I realized I loved tennis and there really wasn’t another sport I wanted to play.”
O’Neil, now a senior, wrapped up her last campaign with a 22-7 record for an area-best .759 win percentage.
She also won the La Salle-Peru Invitational and Coal City Quadrangular and had second-place finishes at the Sterling Newman Invitational and the Ottawa Sectional, which qualified her for the state tournament for the second year in a row.
For her long list of accomplishments, O’Neil is the 2013 NewsTribune Girls Tennis Player of the Year.
“It’s a great memory and I’m very glad to accomplish it. I’m thankful to my family and coaches who supported and helped me,” O’Neil said.
Princeton coach Connie Lind put O’Neil on the varsity as a sophomore and has seen vast improvements since then.
O’Neil was passionate about the sport and set goals to be the best she could be. Lind said that was key to the season her senior had.
“Even as a sophomore she made it to sectionals and made it to the third round,” Lind said. “Ever since that year, she knew what she wanted out of tennis. She has worked very hard in the offseason, she has taken lessons and she has also played at a high level at USTA tennis.
“She knew what she wanted and she accomplished it.”
When she ran into tough competition and suffered a few defeats in back-to-back meets this season against Rock Island and Geneseo, O’Neil reacted with a professional tennis player’s attitude.
She didn’t pout. She didn’t get mad. She went to work and got better.
“Instead of getting down on herself, that seemed to motivate her a little bit more,” Lind said. “It seemed like she dug down and played harder.
“I’m very pleased for Jen to get this honor. She has worked hard for the three years she has been on varsity and she deserves it.”
O’Neil gave credit to her parents and coaches for her success, but her approach to the tennis court this season had a lot to do with it as well.
“I worked a lot at the Quad City Tennis Club and my coach helped me work on gaining more top spin and having more offensive shots so I wasn’t always on defense and just returning balls,” O’Neil said. “I think this year, I returned as more of an offensive player.”
Brandon LaChance can be reached at 220-6995, or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @NT_LaChance
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