Pride of the program

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 11, 2007

The Selma Times-Journal

Lauren Thomas never thought about being the next Venus or Serena Williams.

But she does have one thing in common with the famed tennis sisters. She’s setting an example for young women who want to succeed in the sport.

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Thomas, a senior who is expected to sign with Stillman College today, will become the first female tennis player from the Selma City tennis program to receive a four-year athletic scholarship.

“I never thought about making tennis a career,” Thomas said. “I’m going to be able to go to college to play and some day be able to leave something for my children if I have any. When I first thought about it, it didn’t really hit me. But I kept thinking about it and I got excited, and my mom got excited and my dad got excited.”

Thomas, who was an honoree at a banquet Thursday for Selma High athletes, is currently carrying a 4.10 GPA and will receive an academic scholarship as well. She admitted she originally had more interest in the softball team and band than the tennis team.

But at the urging of her mother, Thomas got into something she never thought she would be so good at.

“I always wanted to play tennis, but they never had a tennis team when I came through Selma High,” Nancy Thomas Walker said. “I thought she had a better chance at playing tennis than she did at softball. Because of her GPA, it lets young girls know you can participate in a sport and also do the work.”

Both Thomas and the program as a whole have come a long way in the past four years. Neither the boys’ or girls’ team won a match that first spring, but both finished 5-3 this year and won matches in sectionals.

According to her coach, Louis Hill, Thomas “swung the racket 15 times before hitting the ball the first time she came out.”

But she gradually evolved into the team’s No. 1 female singles player.

“If you play a sport and want to get better, you have to realize there’s going to have to be a winner and loser,” Thomas said. “You have to decide you’re not going to be the loser.”

Thomas and her teammate in doubles, Nichole Dawson, kept each other loose during the course of the season. They both expect the program to get even better in the years to come.

“It has come a long way,” Dawson said. “They were at first trying to find four girls to have a team, and now they have plenty of girls to choose from. Coach Hill has the program set up in middle school, so that’s going to keep it going.”