Coming to Sag Harbor from Colombia, Juliana Barahona knew she had a lot of work ahead of her, but she also knew she loved tennis, and was willing to work hard to improve her game. With a little help along the way, and an extra year of high school as she returns to Pierson as a sophomore once again this year, she’s looking forward to where the sport can take her.
“I want to continue advancing my game and get all the experience necessary to increase my position in the state,” Barahona said. “My biggest dream is to get a scholarship to play tennis, and be a professional tennis player.”
East Hampton head coach Kevin McConville thinks his All-County returner is on the right track. “She’s so much better than she was last year,” he said. “With her attitude, her athleticism, her movement, she’ll really continue to blossom.”
Barahona emigrated to the United States last year with her brother Mateo, a soccer player 11 months her senior. She’s put a lot of time and effort into not just improving her skills as a tennis player, but learning the English language and an entirely new way of life. For Barahona, the experience has been a dream come true.
“I feel very blessed to have so many people supporting me since I arrived here,” she said. “Coach Kevin has prepared me to be better. He emphasizes my mistakes, and in each practice, we work hard to fix them. The community always has something positive to tell me, and that was a huge help in my process. My brother and my father are also my motivation.”
Barahona and her brother joined their father, who had been living in Sag Harbor three years prior, and once here, McConville got to work getting her all the help he could. The tennis player had first picked up a racket when she was five, and her father found courts in Pereira, Colombia, entering her in classes to see what she could do.
“Everyone thought I had played a lot before, and I was just a beginner,” Barahona said. “Tennis is very expensive in Colombia, so I didn’t play for one year, but when I went back to play, my form was still good.”
Setting An Example
Last year’s No. 2 singles player, one of just five returners, moves into the No. 1 spot this season after competing in junior tournaments all summer with McConville’s city kids, and was also a part of his high school clinic at East Hampton. McConville also got her a job teaching tennis at the Maidstone Club.
“She’s been working very hard on her tennis, and it’s paying off. She’s doing great,” the coach said. “Juliana is going to be a star. She’s my best student. She’s the hardest-working kid that I teach from anywhere, not just on our team.”
What he likes most is that the sophomore, who applied with her brother to repeat their grades because they were within the age cutoff, is that she’s an offensive baseline, not a ball pusher. She’s aggressive, hitting the ball hard at her opponents, but that also can lead to mistakes. It’s what happened in a 6-2, 2-6, 4-6 loss to Sayville’s Mary Madigan in East Hampton’s first match of the season September 3.
“She hit the girl off the court,” McConville said. “But she started making errors. We worked on that — when girls back up and start hitting the ball high, soft, and flat. She’ll continue to hit hard from the baseline and now they’ll miss before she does.”
She turned things around to take home East Hampton’s only win in a 6-1 loss to Islip September 5. She swept Ava Delisle 6-0, 6-2.
Barahona said she continues to remind herself why she likes the sport, while enjoying the process.
“Tennis is the most beautiful sport. When I am in the court, nothing else matters. It’s my favorite place,” she said. “I love the aspect that it is a lone sport. It is all up to me, my effort. I’ve got a lot of experience so far, and I had a lot of fun while doing it.”
She said while it used to be hard finding hitting partners, it’s no problem now with all the people she’s met across her still young journey in America.
“Everyone loves her and wants to help her,” McConville said, adding that families chip in to help Barahona pay for tournament entries. “She’s just been outstanding. She’s the girl that makes everyone work harder because of the example that she sets.”
A Roster Of 14
Barahona is one of seven Sag Harbor girls on McConville’s biggest roster yet. With no tennis players from Bridgehampton on the combined team, the rest on the team of 14 are Bonackers through and through.
The team’s other four returners — senior Kaylee Mendelman, and juniors Chiara Bedini, Catherine LeFevre, and Eva Wojtusiak — rejoin the doubles lineup. McConville said he’s looking for them to lead the new additions. Originally, East Hampton’s Mendelman and Sag Harbor’s Bedini were put together at No. 1 doubles for their aggressive style, being the team’s top two poachers. At No. 2, East Hampton’s Wojtusiak and LeFevre are all-around athletes and good groundstrokers, according to their coach. But Mendelman and Bedini lost to Sayville 7-5, 6-1, and Wojtusiak and LeFevre won 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (5). With Mendelman unavailable for the meet at Islip Thursday, Bedini was partnered with Wojtusiak at No. 1, and the pair lost 6-0, 6-0. LeFevre and Sag Harbor freshman Riley Roesel lost 6-2, 6-4 at No. 3. He’s also still rotating the girls to find which pairings work best.
The coach said he’s excited about Sag Harbor sophomore Romey Lauer, who played No. 4 singles her first match, and was paired with Sag Harbor sophomore Eve Iolo, at No. 2 doubles against Islip. McConville said both will play important roles. The team also welcomes Sag Harbor sophomore Eve Marsden, who played in the No. 1 singles spot on junior varsity last year and will be moving to Australia this October, and East Hampton senior Ashley Peters, who also competed on the junior varsity team last season. Peters partnered with Roesel against Sayville, and the duo won their match 6-4, 7-5.
“They’ve been a really good surprise,” McConville said. “They look good together.”
The coach said every minute of practice is about getting his Bonackers ready, and the plan is to get every girl match experience, so despite boasting a bigger roster that means each meet three girls will be playing with the junior varsity team.
“We have an eye on developing,” McConville said. “We’re going to be a very, very different team come playoff time than we are now, because we’re going to work really hard at developing. When these girls have a year of varsity under their belt they’ll be totally different kids by the end of the year. We’re excited.”