From the time Heidi Swope first picked up a racket and stepped foot on a tennis court, she’s been a natural at the game that’s garnered her state and national attention.
But for all of her obvious talent, it’s her love for the game that has Swope determined to build off a promising beginning to her high school career and further cement her status as the county’s best and most accomplished player.
Swope, a Weddington High junior, has already advanced to the Class 3A state championship doubles’ finals in consecutive seasons, and last fall earned her first state doubles’ title.
Swope possesses a devastating backhand and an overall powerful game that’s led to her becoming the fifth-ranked player in North Carolina’s Class of 2015. She’s also included in the nation’s top 300 players, according to www.tennisrecruiting.net, but Swope wants to build on her promising start.
With her unquestioned talent, desire and focus, winning the singles’ title she covets this season certainly isn’t out of the question.
“Based on what I’ve seen, she’s very capable of playing with everyone who was in the singles’ draw last year and she feels pretty confident in her abilities,” Weddington coach Mike Murphy said. “I expect she’ll cruise through the conference and not have much trouble getting through the regionals. She trains hard, and when you work as hard as she does, I know she has confidence to step up to any challenge on the court and she has it in her to win a state championship this season.”
An Innocent Beginning
When Swope was 6 years old, a friend of her brother asked if she’d be interested in attending a clinic with the friend’s two younger sisters. In search of a sport to focus on, Swope agreed to attend the clinic.
The rest is history.
“It was actually kind of an accident how I started playing,” Swope said. “I was a natural talent with all of the strokes and everything and it sort of drew me in. As a 6-year-old, you see all of the other kids who aren’t focusing, they’re looking around at bugs and stuff, but it was something that I was immediately interested in doing.
“I’ve always been very serious with it and just really loved it.”
From the time she was 8, Swope began taking lessons and her trainers could see she had undeniable talent. Soon, as she began focusing on playing tournaments around the region to further move up the amateur charts, Swope began to make a name for herself.
With the increased time traveling across the state and focusing more and more on tennis, Swope said she always knew she was making the right decision.
“As a young kid I started to move up the state rankings, and that’s when I started to get even more serious,” she said. “I’ve always enjoyed it and haven’t been somebody who would rather go hang out with my friends. I’ve always loved it and this is what I’ve wanted to do and what I love to do.”
Good Start, Bitter End
Swope joined a Weddington High team that was loaded with talent in her freshman season and, despite having already made a name for herself in the junior rankings, was the Warriors’ No. 3 player.
“People would ask me about Heidi and when I told them she played No. 3 for me for most of the year they looked at me like I was crazy,” Murphy said.
Undeterred in having to make a name for herself again, Swope patiently bided her time devouring other team’s third-best players and wound up going undefeated her freshman season in singles’ play.
Despite her undefeated resume, Swope paired with Weddington teammate Casey Rowe and advanced unscathed through the state doubles’ tournament. Swope and Rowe got all the way to the doubles’ final that year, but lost 6-1, 6-2 to a team from Cardinal Gibbons.
“That was very, very hard,” Swope said. “It was a lot of hard work. Coming up as a freshman, my thought was to do as well as I could and making it to the finals, of course, was what I hoped for.
“They’d been playing together longer, they played together (as a team better) and it just wasn’t the right time.”
The Right Time
Entering her sophomore season, Swope was determined to build on her doubles’ debut and continue her strong play. The latter was accomplished with another undefeated singles’ season for the second consecutive year and the former seemed to be in good hands.
Swope teamed with Emma Yates and again found herself in the Class 3A state doubles’ championship, this time against Charlotte Catholic and the Cougars’ best player, Grace Deering.
The Weddington duo jumped out to a 4-0 lead, but dropped the first set, 4-6. But Swope remained determined and focused.
“We got up in the first set, but we kind of lost it,” Swope said. “They knew that we came to play that day. We’d been down in the second round of states so I knew to relax and just play my game (and) we’d be fine. I knew if we kept the pressure on, we’d be OK.”
Swope and Yates rallied to win, taking the next two sets and the state championship, 6-1, 6-3.
On Sept. 28, Swope squared off against Catholic and Deering, who is the No. 7 rated player in the Class of 2014. Deering was better that day, avenging her loss in the doubles’ final and handing Swope her first career high school singles’ loss.
“Grace is one of the best players in Charlotte, and losing to her kind of opened my eyes to what I need to improve upon, which is a good thing,” Swope said. “I definitely needed that.”
Murphy said the loss was good for Swope, adding that his star pupil has waited patiently for her time to be Warriors’ No. 1 player and one of the state’s brightest stars.
“It was a tough loss, but Heidi was fine and really bounced back well,” Murphy said. “She’s very determined and she’ll fight hard for every point. She hits the ball very hard for her size, but the big thing is that I’d call her a fearless competitor. Her competitiveness and desire are her biggest strengths.”
Swope has since continued her dominance and desire to take on all comers. Now, with one championship under her belt and a relit fire to add a singles’ title to her haul, she’s determined to continue to make this season special.
“I’m hoping for another state championship, but there are some good players in (Class) 3A so I’m going to do the best that I can,” Swope said. “I know I have the capabilities to do everything that the person across the net from me can do.
“I need to stay consistent, stay grounded, remember my strokes and remember my shots. If I don’t get too caught up in the pressure and know the type of player that I am, I’ll be fine. I’ve been there, I know the feeling and the atmosphere and I know I have the ability to do it.”