It was only a handful of years ago that Hannah Londoner got involved with tennis. Already a competitive athlete, she danced and played soccer, but until the age of 12 hadn't gotten her feet wet in the game of backhand returns, slices and lobs.
She's come a long way in a brief time.
Now, Londoner is a 17-year-old standout junior on Notre Dame-Fairfield's girls tennis team. The squad's top singles player, she's the only team member with a winning record. She has won nine of 13 matches and is headed to the South-West Conference and state tournaments.
The Lancers, as a team, have no wins. They don't even have enough players to compete from match to match, forfeiting at some positions because of that lack of depth.
Needless to say, Londoner -- in her first year with the Lancers -- is a welcomed addition to the lineup.
"They see how hard she works. They see the work, the effort that needs to be brought to the game to be successful," Notre Dame coach Peter Perillo said of what the other players get out of playing alongside Londoner.
Until this spring, she never had tennis teammates. Home schooled in Westport for the past two years, and playing her competitive tennis by taking part in tournaments and flying to Florida to participate in the Evert Tennis Academy in Boca Raton, she improved her game by instruction only, in one-on-one, coach-player scenarios.
Her family sent her to the Evert Academy, created in part by former professional standout Chris Evert a couple of decades ago, for training during her two years of home schooling. That's paid off with her performance on the court, and Londoner is striving to continue her playing career in college.
Afforded the opportunity to play catch-up to get up to speed in the game of tennis, Londoner took advantage. Now she's speeding past many of her peers and counterparts on the courts.
"You can tell she's well-educated and has the natural talent, too," Perillo said.
"She has a good all-around game," said Perillo, noting that Londoner is more than just a strong player along the back line. "She's not afraid to come to the net. Her backhand is not a weakness -- serves are solid."
If a match is a back-and-forth struggle, the junior has a knack for prevailing, Perillo said.
"During a long rally, she can outlast an opponent," he said. "I'm really impressed with her footwork, too."
Londoner was educated in the Westport Public Schools through eighth grade. Londoner decided she wanted to attend a small private school for her junior and senior years, and Notre Dame seemed to be the best fit, she said.
"It's been a really great experience. I've bonded with my team and it's a lot of fun," Londoner said.
Londoner is thrilled she gave tennis a try. "I love it -- it's really fun. It's great exercise. I love everything about it."
Well almost everything. Losing doesn't happen much for Londoner, but she's had some setbacks on the court. Even occasionally coming out on the short end has a silver lining. After all, with a loss comes experience against a strong opponent.
"It makes you better," Londoner said.
Andy Hutchison is a freelance reporter