Marissa Landers approached the tennis courts across the street from Cardinal Mooney High School.
Her father, Tom, was across the net from her.
Memories flooded back. She has been hitting ground strokes with her father since she was 5.
Her coach, Jennifer Policy, was looking on as Landers, a senior, prepares for Friday’s Division II district girls tennis tournament at Springside Fitness and Racquet Club in Akron.
Tennis is a family tradition. Heading to district play has been as well. This is her second straight season making it to Akron.
“It’s a great experience to carry on Mooney traditions of making it far as a Mooney family,” Landers said. “I love carrying it on. It’s a great experience.”
Canfield senior Anna Kan knows district play as well. The Cardinals senior has been to district play the past three seasons, including making it to state the past two as a singles player. She made districts as a doubles player her freshman season.
Mentally, she prepares like it’s another match.
She begins Division I play Thursday morning around 9 a.m., as a No. 3 seed in Division I, starting with No. 2-seeded Emma Kealy of Walsh Jesuit.
“If I start thinking about if I win this I make it to state, I feel extra pressure,” Kan said. “I really don’t need that.”
The top six players out of the Division I Akron District head to state in singles and doubles.
Kan is used to the experience, especially the support she gets inside the walls of Canfield High School.
“The whole school pretty much has your back,” Kan said. “If you ask, they’re going to know I’m there. (Coach Pat Pavlansky) Pav is always there ready to cheer me on. The principals, the teachers, every time they find out, they say, ‘Congrats.’ They’re always supportive. It’s nice to have a school back you.”
Boardman High School junior Ava Valko had her backing with her during Monday’s practice at the courts next to Spartan Stadium.
She’s making her second straight district appearance, this time as a No. 2 seed. Valko starts district play with third-seeded Sunny Fan of Hudson.
Valko was hitting with her coach’s son, Garrett Gardner. Gardner was a Poland High School standout in the early 2010s, making the state tennis tournament three of his four seasons — including placing fourth in singles his senior season. Gardner went on to a successful tennis career at Valparaiso University.
Playing against Gardner has enhanced Valko’s footwork.
“I move really well on the court, and I think it saves me a lot of the time if my shots aren’t that great,” she said. “I know I can get to the next ball.”
This year’s district play will be another building block in her career.
“Honestly, I have to build off of every year and learn from all my experiences — you learn from the losses, you learn from the wins,” Valko said. “All my coaches have been great — all my people behind me. They’ve been helping me a lot this year. Hopefully I can go into district with that.”
She wants to live in the moment when her next step begins Thursday morning in Akron.
“You can’t be thinking of the future,” Valko said. “You have to think of the now, how you play, how you hit.”
Landers played on the Mooney boys team two years ago as one of the top singles players for the Cardinals.
She said she was able to control the tennis ball a lot more and hit any speed. Her physical skills were improved.
Mentally, she’s prepared for Friday’s opening matchup with second-seeded Andie McKnight of Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary.
The top five singles and doubles in Division II advance to state.
“It’s more about being in your head than skill,” said Landers, who is a third-seeded player. “You have to tell yourself you can do it. You can’t get down on yourself for making mistakes.
“You have to keep going and trying your best.”
That’s all Landers, Kan and Valko will do later this week.