Saturday, December 03, 2022

Sports Person of the Week

Patel Serving as a Leader with T-Birds’ Tennis


Diya Patel is leading the North Branford girls’ tennis team as a senior captain while forming one half of the T-Birds’ No. 3 doubles tandem this season. Photo courtesy of Diya Patel

Diya Patel is leading the North Branford girls’ tennis team as a senior captain while forming one half of the T-Birds’ No. 3 doubles tandem this season. (Photo courtesy of Diya Patel)

Diya Patel was brand new to tennis when she joined the program at North Branford as a freshman. During the past four years, Diya has seen both her skillset and passion for the sport expand, earning the senior a spot in the doubles lineup and the title of captain for the North Branford girls’ tennis team this spring.

Diya had never played a sport prior to her freshman season. In fact, she wasn’t much into sports in general. However, Diya was encouraged to play tennis by her cousin Dhruvi Patel, who is also a senior captain for the T-Birds this year.

Diya decided to give tennis a try. She figured that if her cousin liked it, maybe she would, too. Still, Diya needed to learn the fundamentals of the sport before she could win a match. Despite those early struggles, Diya started to enjoy tennis as her freshman season unfolded and everyone on the club made her feel welcome.

“At first, I couldn’t even hit the ball properly. Once I learned the skills, I started liking the sport more,” says Diya. “I started off not knowing anything, but throughout the season, everyone helped me a lot. I got better by the end of the season.”

After playing JV as a freshman, Diya’s sophomore season was canceled. When she returned to the courts as a junior, Diya received a bump up to the varsity level, playing No. 3 doubles alongside then-junior Catherine Pollock. The promotion came as a shock to Diya, who wasn’t expecting to play varsity. However, taking on stronger competition allowed Diya to learn more about the sport of tennis.

“When I heard my name for No. 3 doubles, I was so happy. I didn’t think I made varsity,” Diya says. “It was a great experience. I got to learn a lot of new things.”

While she did make the varsity leap in her junior year, Diya was forced to quarantine for most of the season and only appeared in three matches. Now back as a senior, Diya has returned to the No. 3 doubles role alongside freshman Daytona Kamienski. Diya enjoys playing doubles, because she knows that she always has a partner she can count on.

“I like doubles more than I would like singles,” says Diya. “I know I have a partner to back me up if I know I can’t get the ball. I like the experience of playing doubles.”

After posting two wins last year, the T-Birds have three victories under their belt with eight regular-season matches remaining this spring. Diya is seeing both herself and her teammates grow as North Branford pursues success. Now, when she steps on the court, Diya feels that she’s nailed down the fundamentals of tennis and has become a more confident player.

“I have made a lot of growth. Freshman year, I couldn’t hold a racquet, I couldn’t hit the ball across the court. I would hit the ball up really high,” Diya says. “Junior year I started learning how to hit the ball cross court. Now we started winning more matches. It gave me confidence to play.”

In addition to her work on the court, Diya was named a captain for North Branford alongside her cousin Dhruvi prior to her senior season. Diya has always wanted to be a leader for the T-Birds. As a captain, Diya is doing everything she can to help the younger players on the team improve.

“It meant a lot to me. I really wanted to be a captain and be a leader for people,” says Diya. “I never got to experience something like that. It’s really exciting. I just wanted to see improvement with our team, which I obviously have thus far.”

Liz Caplan is in her second season as head coach of the North Branford girls’ tennis team. As Diya has progressed on the court, Caplan has also seen the senior captain become a role model and a morale booster who is always there to pick up her fellow Thunderbirds.

“Diya is someone who her teammates can talk to,” Caplan says. “She has a great sense of humor and always gives them encouragement.”

Following graduation, Diya will attend Quinnipiac University and pursue a degree in finance. She is planning on continuing to play tennis while at Quinnipiac.

After growing up with no background in sports, Diya fell in love with tennis. Diya credits her teammates for always encouraging her and helping her get acclimated to a sport that she had never played. Now, when she walks the halls of her high school, Diya feels proud to be recognized as a North Branford tennis player.

“It means a lot to me. Most people in school know me for being a tennis player,” says Diya. “Joining tennis was a lot of fun. I got to meet all new players. I fell in love with the sport. I got everything I could have wanted out of tennis.”

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