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The City Journals

Murray HS graduate Sidnee Lavatai becoming a star for the USU women’s tennis team

Mar 27, 2019 04:11PM ● By Carl Fauver

Recent Mountain West Conference Women’s Tennis Player of the Week Sidnee Lavatai is a 2018 Murray High School graduate. (Rick Parker/USU)

By Carl Fauver | [email protected]  

A Murray High School graduate is quickly making a name for herself up in Logan, as a freshman standout on the Utah State University (USU) Women’s Tennis team.

Less than a year removed from high school, 2018 MHS graduate Sidnee Lavatai was recently named Mountain West Conference Women’s Tennis Player of the Week.

Here entire Aggie team did not fair particularly well that week, suffering losses to Idaho (4-3) and the University of Texas at San Antonio (5-2), while winning at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP, 4-3).

But Lavatai enjoyed a near-perfect 5-1 personal record during the week, competing as the Aggies’ No. 6 singles player, and on the No. 2 USU doubles team, partnered with sophomore Alexandra Pisareva.

“We recruited Sidnee for her potential more than her actual playing skill; but she has really gotten it together quickly,” said fifth-year Utah State women’s tennis head coach Sean McInerney. “She’s a good girl and has been unbelievably solid for us.” 

For her part, Lavatai says her first half year in Logan has been a dream come true.

“Back when I was first looking at college tennis programs, I shared my highlight clips with USU,” she said. “I was so excited to accept a full-ride scholarship from them. Neither of my parents, or my older sister, attended college. So, I am the first one in the family to go. It is very exciting and I think I’m helping the team.”

Lavatai’s tennis odyssey began back in sixth grade, when she and her dad were visiting a Salt Lake Valley park.

“I was about 11, and had never played tennis before, when someone let me give it a try for a few minutes,” Lavatai said. “Purely by coincidence, Kirk Plank was at the park and was shocked – after watching me – when I told him I had never played before. He offered to begin coaching me right there on the spot and was my coach for about three years.” 

During that time, Lavatai continued to grow toward the nearly 6-feet she stands today.

“A little extra height can be a huge advantage for tennis players, provided they understand court positioning – where they should be at all times,” USU coach McInerney added. “But to get her there, we have worked hard on making Sidnee’s first step quicker. Her wider wing span helps. We have a tall team. She does not stand out all that much compared to several of her teammates.”

Within two years of touching a racket for the first time, Lavatai began seeing much of the United States, as she travelled to various tennis tournaments. Along the way she also began to be coached by the tennis pros at the Sports Mall in Murray.

“I don’t even know how many tennis tournaments I have been in,” Lavatai said. “I started at about age 12 and have played all throughout the west – Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming – along with further away states, Texas, Georgia and Alabama.”

A near lifelong Murray resident, Lavatai was also transitioning during those years from Parkside Elementary to Hillcrest Junior to Murray High School. Unfortunately, her intensive practice and tournament schedule made it impossible for her to offer much assistance to her Murray High School girls’ tennis team.

“I played first singles as a freshman for Murray High in 2015,” she said. “I advanced to the state semifinals, where I lost to Hannah Jones, who is now my teammate (a junior on the USU team). That was the only season I was able to play for Murray. And, after my sophomore year, I attended online high school for a year and a half, to fit my tennis schedule. Then I returned to Murray High for my final semester, so I could walk (graduate) with my class.”

By then Lavatai knew she was Utah State bound, where she now lives in a dorm with a fellow freshman tennis player Annaliese County – a Lone Peak High School graduate Lavatai has competed against for many years.

“She and I share a room, along with a common area that has six other girls,” Lavatai added. “None of the other six play tennis and it has been pretty fun getting to know everyone.”

“We recruit from all over the world and were excited to get Sidnee, right in our own backyard,” coach McInerney concluded. “The first time I spoke with her I told her, ‘You are known as the nice girl. I don’t know if you are mean enough to play for us.’ But she’s proven she can be very competitive.”

In just her first USU season, Lavatai has also proven those abilities to the people who select the Mountain West Conference Women’s Tennis Players of the Week.