Tucson Citizen, March 28, 2003

A Labor of Love

At Desert View, tennis coaches build programs
that have led to success on and off the court

'We're here to see what kind of success and life in this world we can have. You always have to believe in yourself.'
- Nayelli Ballesteros, Desert View High School
Photos by TRICIA McINROY/Tucson Citizen

Tucson Citizen
March 28, 2003

At Desert View High School, tennis is not just an afternoon activity. It's a map for life.

During 12 years at the South Side school, girls coach Stacy Haines has helped dozens of players become success stories.

Boys coach Lenny Lowndes has shaped his team over four years using the same mold. Lowndes has taken a team that went season after season without a win and slowly turned it around.

His team is 9-1.

When Haines took over, the lady Jaguars had gone 1-47 over the previous three years. Now his program is always one of the city's most competitive.

His enthusiasm for tennis and focus on education has helped send girl after girl from his program to college on athletic or academic scholarships.

"(Lowndes) picked up a program that was about the same shape as mine when I started," said Haines, who had all eight of his players from the class of 2001 go on to four-year colleges. "The first thing he did was wash out all the kids who didn't work."

It's not that Lowndes is turning kids away. He's just making sure the ones he has give a full effort.

And despite his team's recent success, Lowndes still has trouble getting enough players for a full-blown program.

"The biggest problem is getting guys to come out and play," said Lowndes, whose team has eight players this season. "It's still not considered a guy's game on our side of town.

"It's about having word of mouth get around and having the kids see tennis is not what it seems to be.

"It's changing a little bit. Slowly, very slowly."

The success of the two programs is intertwined, almost as if it's one big coed team.

The No. 1 player among the boys is Albert Santa Cruz, whose sister Darlane played for Haines 1998-2002 and went on to play for Samford University.

Santa Cruz is a junior, and may be the first Desert View player of Lowndes' to play in college.

"I'm kind of really excited since I have that opportunity," Santa Cruz said. "It's a discipline to play every day. You can't play for a week, then not play for three or four days. You have to keep on playing."

He could join a long list of former Jaguar players to compete at the next level.

'It's a discipline to play every day. You can't play for a week, then not play for three or four days. You have to keep on playing.'
Albert Santa Cruz, Desert View junior

1998 graduate Claudia Meza went on to play at Grand Canyon University and at Stetson University in DeLand, Fla.

Maria Canizales played at San Francisco University after graduating, and returned a year later to continue school in Tucson and become Haines' assistant coach.

Alexis Huicochea pursued academics and was accepted by the Walter Cronkite School of Broadcasting at Arizona State University after Cronkite called on her behalf.

"The girls team is an inspiration to the guys. They try and achieve some of the hypes the girls have," Lowndes said. "They set the standard. The boys have been slowly closing the gap."

Nayelli Ballesteros, the girls No. 1 player, is one of several players to take lessons about tennis and apply them to life.

"We're here to see what kind of success and life in this world we can have. You always have to believe in yourself," said Ballesteros, a junior who has two scholarship offers. "I think you should take advantage of what's been offered to you."

The coaches' philosophy is simple: If you're going to play tennis, work hard on the court and harder in class.

"(Haines) does not allow you to get a 'D' or a 'F,' " Ballesteros said. "I really admire that he really does care."

Upper-income schools normally dominate local tennis, something both coaches attribute to players there affording private lessons.

That doesn't stop Haines and Lowndes from giving their kids the same opportunity. They both have their athletes play year-round in whatever free clinics they can participate in, and hold their own tennis camp each summer.

Haines and Lowndes use their own money to buy team supplies, and have received donated rackets from the Tucson Racquet Club.

"The tennis budget is nowhere, not even a fraction of the football or basketball," said Lowndes. "But I must admit that Desert View, in terms of what we get, has been good to us.

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