Champion: Butler’s team-first individual

Girls Tennis Player of the Year

by Aaron Garcia

Don’t get her wrong, Hollie Champion loves playing for the Butler High School girls tennis team. Loves it. She loves traveling with her teammates, and she loves the camaraderie team tennis engenders. She loves cheering for other athletes donning Butler garb.

It’s a totally different approach than her life as a player on the junior-tennis circuit, where players don’t compete for teams, but as individuals.

“I love being on a team and playing for something that matters more than just myself,” Champion said. “That’s why I love playing for the high school team, and I think it makes me feel better because I’m enjoying it a little more than playing for myself.”

And it showed this season, as Champion fit right in to the Bulldogs’ team dynamic and led the squad with a 9-3 singles record.

But what truly made Champion worthy of being named the 2011 Matthews-Mint Hill Weekly Girls Tennis Player of the Year was her work in the state’s individual competition. The Butler junior qualified for the 4A Western Regional individual tournament after advancing to the semifinals at the Southwestern 4A conference championships. At the regional tournament, Champion beat Hough’s Briana Bodner (6-4, 6-1) and Watauga’s Meredith Smith (6-2, 6-2) to advance to the Class 4A individual state championship for the first time in her career.

But she didn’t stop there, as she downed her first-round opponent, Greensboro Grimsley’s Astrid Pascua (6-3, 6-3).

Ultimately, Champion fell in the second round to eventual runner-up, Wilmington Hoggard’s McKayla Zupan, 6-3, 6-2.

And while she would’ve loved to have her teammates there cheering her on, Champion said the bright lights and high-pressure matches of the postseason were easier to manage, thanks to her junior-tennis experience, which she began earning at 11.

“I feel like I started playing a lot better because the pressure was off because I wasn’t trying to win to help the team score,” she said. “It was just different because it was me and not the team, but it was still fun. I started playing better in the conference and regional tournaments.”

Champion hopes her individual achievements will help her role as a senior leader on next year’s Butler team. And while she might prefer being but one piece of a larger unit, she said this year’s success will only help the Bulldogs – and her.

“It made me realize that I can play with the better people,” she said. “I just have to work hard and play smart.”

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