For the fourth consecutive season, Oak Harbor senior tennis player Ashley LaFountain is on the brink of advancing to the state tournament.
For LaFountain, this is nothing new.
She's advanced to the Division II state tournament in her first three years of competition, but there is nothing small about an accomplishment like that, regardless of how many times it happens.
|Oak HArbor senior, Ashley LaFountain. (Press
photo by J. Patrick Eaken)
This season, as in years past, LaFountain has been dominant, going 22-0 in singles play and winning the Sandusky Bay Conference title for the fourth consecutive year. Since last season, she's held the girls’ record for career victories, a number that currently stands at 128 and will likely never be broken.
There is one thing that she is hoping to change, however, and that is her performance at the state meet. In each of the last two seasons, she suffered tough losses to Portsmouth's Mollie Miller. During her freshman year, however, LaFountain won a match before falling in the quarterfinals. This year, she is hoping to win the district and get a higher seed in Columbus, something that could give her a more favorable matchup at state.
With her season and career winding down, LaFountain is beginning to reflect a little on her accomplishments.
“It's been awesome,” she said. “I feel fortunate to have had such a great four years so far and this year's state tournament, if I make it, is a testament to how hard I have worked in my career.”
LaFountain dominated the competition at the D-II sectional in Clyde, winning all five matches in flawless fashion without a single loss.
Besides being a phenomenal tennis player, LaFountain excels in the classroom. Currently ranked second in her class, she maintains a 4.2 GPA and is considering playing tennis in college. According to her father and Oak Harbor tennis coach, Rick LaFountain, Ashley is corresponding with several NCAA Division I colleges and intends to make a decision later in the school year.
Rick says Ashley’s success stems from her work ethic, which sees her compete in the sport year round, and her intense focus on getting better and refining her kills. During the offseason, she receives lessons from Mark Faber, a tennis professional in Toledo, once a week, and also participates in United States Tennis Association tournaments on the weekends and trains to stay in shape while maintaining a healthy diet.
In addition, LaFountain has worked to improve her mental toughness and develop ways to help her focus
“Tennis is 98 percent mental and only two percent physical,” Ashley said. “So practicing components of your mental game is just as important, if not more, than actually hitting the ball. I have been working a lot on my mental game and point strategy throughout the season to improve my game for these next few weeks.”
LaFountain comes from a tennis family. Her father, Rick, has coached for 25 seasons, and her brother, Greg, holds the boys career record for victories and was a regional finalist in his senior season. Currently, Rick works as a government teacher at Fremont Ross High School and Greg is a sophomore at the University of Toledo, majoring in pharmacy and maintaining a 3.8 GPA.
Ashley has been hitting ground strokes, and sometime playing competitively, with both for years, and needless to say, it's helped make her the player she is today.
“Tennis for my brother and I was our life from a young age,” she said. “(Greg and I) would hit six to seven days per week with our dad whenever we could find a court. Going out to the courts and hitting with our dad was a way to bond with him. A lot of times we would fight out on the court, but even today, I wouldn't change a thing because it all made me who I am today.”
LaFountain also benefited from another coach, the late Pat Ortner, a pro at Baywinds Athletic Club in Sandusky. Another of Ortner's proteges, Amy Schlessman, a 2009 graduate of Perkins High School, won the SBC tennis title four consecutive years just like LaFountain did, a testament to his guidance.
“Pat was a huge influence on my game,” LaFountain said. “I could talk to him about anything, and he would have an answer for me. He taught me tennis in a way that made it really simple. Whatever problem you were having with your game, he could pick out what you were doing wrong even if it was as small as lining up your foot at the wrong angle on a serve.”
Sadly, Ortner, who was 43, passed away in February 2010 from a heart attack.
“Ever since his death, a lot of the Baywinds members have fallen out of touch,” Lafountain said. “He was the glue that kept everyone together. I really miss Pat, and hopefully this year I can honor his memory by going out swinging for my senior year.”