There was a period when both Hinsdale South junior Sarah Puz and freshman Natalie Axelrod never imagined playing tennis in high school.
Puz planned to focus on soccer before changing her mind right before freshman year. She credits her dad for pointing her in the right direction.
“Ever since I could walk, my dad [Matt] had me on the tennis court,” said Puz, who also plays soccer for the Hornets. “I played travel soccer for four years and I used to think I liked soccer more. My dad was kind of pushing me to play tennis in high school and I kind of pushed it aside before deciding to at the last minute. He always saw I had potential to be a great tennis player and pushed me to be the best I could.”
Axelrod took tennis lessons and didn’t enjoy them, only to change her mind three years later. She was heavily involved in softball, but got burnt out. She decided to give tennis another shot and is glad she did.
“I thought it would be fun to get back into it again,” Axelrod said. “I didn’t really appreciate the sport when I was younger like I do now. I had the fundamentals down and I also was thinking playing softball and hitting the ball translates to swinging a racquet. I was driven and motivated to get better in the sport.”
From those divergent starting points, Puz and Axelrod came together on the Hinsdale South tennis courts and formed the Hornets’ top doubles team.
The duo ended the season at the Downers Grove South Sectional on Friday, where they put the finishing touches on an 11-13 record.
“We did pretty well since we just started playing together two months ago,” Puz said. “We worked well together and we formed a good friendship. I saw her play all summer, so I knew she was a really good player and I was excited when we got paired together. We’re really kind of the same person. We both want to win and do well in everything we try. We have the same determination to do well.”
Axelrod credits Puz with helping her adjust to high school tennis and No. 1 doubles as a freshman.
“We formed a good friendship,” said Axelrod, of Burr Ridge. “She is really nice and we had a great connection. Our personalities really meshed. On and off the court she is supportive.”
Puz, who is a captain, played primarily singles last season and first-year Hinsdale South coach Stephen Snider was impressed by how she handled the switch.
“It was a huge learning curve for her, but she picked things up nicely,” Snider said. “She has good movement, shot selection and service strategy. She’s super-athletic and has good footwork.”
Axelrod and Puz, who lives in Darien, are planning on taking lessons at Score Tennis and Fitness during the offseason.
“We hope to make state and hopefully the lessons will give us a fighting chance,” Puz said.
Snider believes the two complement each other well.
“I like how athletic they are,” Snider said. “They get along great on and off the court and always have a positive attitude. Their skill sets are very similar. A big part of doubles is energy and they have tremendous energy. They have confidence on the court and do a nice job of coming together after a point.”