Jennifer Salomon has shown something special on the tennis court that transcends even powerful serves and crosscourt winners.
The Wallenberg ace has proven capable of rallying teammates around her in a sport many consider to be defined by individual efforts.
Bulldogs coach Pat Nishimoto first noticed the trend when Wallenberg faced Lowell in last year’s San Francisco Section final. Lowell had already won six of the seven matches and had clinched its ninth consecutive title, but Nishimoto recalled how her entire team stood courtside and cheered as Salomon outlasted Michelle Lam, the Cardinals’ top player at the time.
"Even though all our other girls lost, after Jennifer won, we all felt like winners," Nishimoto said. "Everyone was so excited and going crazy. The girls all look up to her, and the boys do, too."
Salomon became the first Wallenberg player to win the section title in school history last year. Now a junior, she is standing front and center again as the Bulldogs (5-0 in the Academic Athletic Association after beating Lincoln on Tuesday) prepare to face off against Lowell (5-0) Thursday at 3:30 p.m. at Golden Gate Park.
Not that Salomon is buying the hype of this being a season-defining afternoon.
"We’re excited to face Lowell, but I think our team sees every match as a challenging one no matter who’s across the net," Salomon said. "We’ll just focus on staying calm and playing our game."
Part of that teamwide composure comes from the knowledge that Salomon is playing No. 1 singles, as she has yet to lose in five league matches thus far this season. A team captain, Salomon also goes out of her way to aid and encourage the rest of the Bulldogs.
"Being a leader is a great opportunity," Salomon said. "I try to give little pieces of advice to the other players, help with some strokes and give some pep talks."
Nishimoto — herself a tennis player — knew Salomon had a chance to be a special player the first time she saw her hitting balls at Golden Gate Park as a 7-year-old. Salomon learned the game from her father, J.R., and is now following in the footsteps of older sister Janice, a former No. 1 singles player at UC Davis.
Salomon is also hoping to have the opportunity to compete at the college level and supplements her time spent playing at Wallenberg with practice time at the California Tennis Club. But while many top tennis players eschew the high school game in order to focus on individual workouts, Salomon says the experience is too rich to give up.
"If you can be part of a school team, it’s all the better than being out on your own," Salomon said. "Winning All-City last year meant a lot to me because I could make my school proud. And hopefully I can do well again this season."