MILTON, MA – Soccer’s loss has proven to be tennis’ gain.
When she was 12 years old, Sophie Panarese dropped soccer, a sport she liked, to focus on tennis, a sport she loved, and the decision has helped pave the way for a promising future.
Panarese, a high school senior from Milton who attends Milton Academy, will continue her tennis career next fall at Georgetown University, the result of natural athletic talent and a strong work ethic.
"I really liked soccer, but tennis is different, in my opinion, in a good way," said Panarese, who trains with coaches Francisco Montoya at the Manchester Athletic Club, Bill Drake at Brookline Country Club and Oscar Jara at the Weymouth Club. "I like the fact that it’s an individual sport, so there is nobody to blame if you don’t prepare well."
While Panarese’s talent caught the attention of college coaches, her demeanor has been attention-grabbing for years around New England, with the culmination coming in recently when Panarese was selected as the recipient of USTA New England’s William Hoblitzelle award, presented to a girls 18-and-under player who best demonstrated a superior blend of sportsmanship and leadership on and off the court.
The award was first given in 1958 and is named in honor of William Hoblitzelle. Hoblitzelle was a dedicated umpire who was instrumental in organizing junior events, especially team matches between New England and Canada.
"It’s a really nice honor, especially knowing that my peers and coaches know that I try to play hard, but with sportsmanship," said Panarese, who also won a USTA New England sportsmanship award as a 14-year-old. "I’m not really sure what made me have that attitude, but I think it’s just something my parents taught me and have always expected of me."
Panarese is currently the fifth-ranked girls’ 18 player in New England and, among other career achievements, won three consecutive USTA New England Clay Court championships.
But, Panarese is sure the memories of matches won and lost will fade, but something valuable will not.
"Playing juniors has been like an entirely different world. It’s like I have two lives – the friends I have at school and the friends I’ve met through tennis," she said. "I’ve known these kids since I was 12 and I’ve become great friends with a lot of them and that won’t change. I’m sure they’ll all be at my wedding some day."
Panarese has yet to decide on a major in college, but is already sure that tennis will be part of her life after her days with Hoyas are over.
"I can’t ever envision myself not playing tennis," she said. "Maybe when I’m out of school I’ll get into coaching, but I’ll definitely be on a tennis court for as long as I can."