Melissa Mitchell was looking for both a competitive outlet and a way to meet new people.
In early 2020, Northwood Country Club formed a USTA tennis team, providing her and seven other local women a chance at both. For many on the team, it was the first time they had ever picked up a racket.The group — which also includes Katie Curren, Kim Knight, Caroline Rush, Krisann Terry, Makenzie Woodward, Caroline Compton and Tammy Collins — practiced together through the summer with Northwood tennis pro Anthony Hiatt before taking part in a fall tennis league.
When this spring rolled around, each of them had developed their games so significantly that it led to a 12-0 league record in the Pine Belt 2.5 division and a 4-0 record in their state tournament flight June 4-6 in Jackson. In the championship round, Northwood won two out of the three courts against a team from Batesville, securing the state championship for the eight of them.
“There was a sense of complete pride for each of the individual women on the team and gratitude for our tennis professional (Hiatt) at Northwood who has really trained us over the past year and a half,” Mitchell said. “We just felt an overall sense of happiness that we could accomplish something like a USTA state championship together.”
After the team was formed, Mitchell said the women all began to grow close, making their undefeated spring season even more special.
“There were several of us new to Meridian who were looking to stay active and develop friendships,” Mitchell said. “We began taking lessons at Northwood, and there hadn’t been a USTA team in quite some years at the beginner/entry level. Several of us came together and decided that competing against teams in the Hattiesburg area would be a great opportunity for us to have local competition. The key thing for us was coming together and developing friendships.”
Compton, who had previous tennis experience but hadn’t competed in over a decade, said she enjoyed both getting back into the sport and developing bonds with her teammates.
“I enjoy playing with them because even though I knew the girls beforehand, it allowed me to get to know them even better in a way I didn’t before,” Compton said. “I wouldn’t have the relationship I have with them now if it weren’t for playing in this league. The great thing about playing tennis is the people you meet and the relationships you build while doing it.”
It was the same for Mitchell, who said she’s grateful for tennis giving her a chance to expand her social circle.
“The type of friendships that came from this feel like once-in-a-lifetime and feel like they could last a lifetime,” Mitchell said. “If it wasn’t for tennis, some of these friendships wouldn’t have been formed. We’re all different ages from our mid 20s to 40s, and some of us have experienced so many milestones together ranging from weddings, engagements, graduations and baby showers. These are very special friendships we’ve been able to form.”
None of it would have been possible without Hiatt’s patience and technical knowledge of tennis, Compton said.
“He’s great to work group clinics with us and run drills that help us become better players,” Compton said. “We as a team are so fortunate to have such a supportive coach, and Northwood is incredibly fortunate to have him as our head tennis pro.”
Hiatt said everyone on the team kept improving since it was formed, and he enjoyed watching them go from beginners to veteran players in a short amount of time.
“It’s been great getting to see develop because all of these girls basically started from scratch,” Hiatt said. “They work hard, and they love tennis. They play all the time, so it’s been fun to teach them and to get to know them on and off the court.”
The improvement from last year until now is another rewarding part of being on the team, Compton said.
“To say we have all improved since our first practice over a year ago is an understatement,” Compton said. “It’s been fun watching these girls improve and grow as tennis players and being able to do it alongside them. We are all very competitive, too, and I believe that’s a huge factor in us getting to and winning state. We don’t like to lose.”
Winning state qualified Northwood for USTA’s Southern Sectionals July 23-26 in Rome, Georgia, where they’ll face teams from across the Southeast. Mitchell said she hopes the success will inspire others to get involved in Meridian’s tennis scene.
“We’re excited to see the tennis community grow in Meridian and are appreciative toward Northwood for fostering that environment,” Mitchell said.