VIRGINIA – Mary Skorich had to wait a long time before she got her chance to play at the No. 1 singles spot for the Virginia tennis team.
The Virginia senior found herself playing at the No. 3 spot over the past few years behind some of the strongest talent the Blue Devils have ever had. Working on her game day after day, Skorich finally got that chance in her senior year and has been leading the Blue Devils in her final season on the team.
Finally getting to play in that top spot, Skorich says earning the first singles position came as a relief and it’s only improved her game this year.
“Now I can finally play in a spot that I can be more comfortable,” Skorich said Friday at the Virginia tennis courts. “Playing in the third spot, I felt like I always had to win. Now in the first singles spot, I don’t have to worry about that. I just get to play and know that there are people that are better than me and I’m going to win some and lose some and just thinking like that helps reduce any anxiety I might have on the court.”
Skorich’s head coach Kortney Rosati says the six-year varsity player has done more than enough to show she’s ready to handle that top spot.
“You can tell she’s definitely comfortable out on the court,” Rosati said. “When you move up from a third spot to a No. 1, it might be intimidating. The competition is so much tougher but because of that you really just start to find your groove and play better than you ever have and I think Mary’s doing that this year.”
Starting out from a very young age, Skorich spent many years watching her older sister play tennis for Virginia. While she looked up to her in the beginning, she eventually found her own passion for the sport and wanted to improve as much as possible.
“I looked up to my sister and the other girls that played and then I wanted to do what they did. When I got into fifth or sixth grade I realized I wanted to do this for myself. People were always comparing me to my sister but I wanted to play for myself and show what I could do so it started growing into my own passion at that point.”
What exactly does Skorich enjoy about the game? The big draw for her is the mental aspect of the game as well as getting the chance to work on herself.
“It’s definitely more of a mental sport than a lot of people realize. It’s a team sport but it’s also an individual sport. You play for yourself to win your own match and better yourself and in the process, you’re bettering the entire team. I know that I can set my own goals and help the team at the same time but it’s also a sport I can play with just one other person outside of a team setting.”
Trying out for the varsity team as soon as she could in the seventh grade, Skorich said she didn’t expect to earn a spot on the team so quickly. Ultimately, she just wanted to say she took a shot at it and gave it her best try.
“When I was younger and taking tennis lessons, I always felt like I was at the bottom of the pack with some of these other girls. So I wanted to try out in seventh grade just to kind of prove to myself that even if I didn’t make it that I tried my best. A lot of people were even kind of preparing me to be let down or maybe even wait a year before doing it.”
Skorich did make the team as a seventh grader and while it was initially nerve-wracking, it helped her grow throughout high school.
“I’m more of a reserved person so in those first couple weeks as a seventh grader, I’d sit by myself and not know what to do or who to talk to but then I started getting to know the older girls on the team and it definitely helped me grow and then I had some friends to hang out with by the time high school started.
A senior now, Skorich was fearful she may miss out on her final season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Once the Minnesota State High School League allowed teams to play this fall, she was able to feel a bit of relief.
“I was just praying that they were going to let us play. You look at what happened last year with the spring sports and all those players that lost their last season and I just felt like it could happen again in the fall. Decisions were being made for how kids would go back to school and it was easy to worry and think sports would just be thrown on the backburner. Going into my sixth year, I didn’t want my last year to be taken away or cut short.”
One of many seniors on this year’s team, Rosati says Skorich has more than proven herself to be a capable leader in the short time she’s known her.
“From the start, before the season even started, I met with her and some of the other girls and she was so willing to help right away,” Rosati said. “She’d offer to come early and help set up and even at practice she’s ready to do what she can to help the team. She’ll take time from her own practice to help me feed a couple drills for the younger girls so she’s very good at stepping up as a leader.”
Skorich’s leadership extends into matches as well. Just on Monday against Hermantown, Rosati moved the singles veteran over to the top doubles spot with teammate Jayda Westerbur in order to give some younger players a chance to prove themselves on the singles court.
“I thought that would be good for her. We talked before hand and made sure she was comfortable with it. I say a lot that these girls are flexible, and Mary was more than willing to take on that challenge and give other girls a chance to show us what they can do. I think it was fun for her and she got to play with a partner for once after playing singles for so long.”
Rosati hopes that Skorich continues to push herself as a Blue Devil until her very last match and expects she’ll do just that.
“I want to see her continue to play hard and play confidently. She’s such a strong tennis player but you can tell she has a lot of room to grow and get better. I’m excited to see how her game will continue to grow and I know she won’t let up at all in that.”
For Skorich, her goal for herself is simple: just play.
“I’ve struggled in the past with a lot of anxiety and stress when it comes to playing. Win or lose, I just want to be myself on the court and be able to play without all that pressure and anxiety I’ve had in the years before.”
Skorich currently plans on attending Concordia for their English writing program and hopes to continue her tennis career when she gets there.
“I have to keep in mind that I’m going to college for an education over anything else. The hard part is finding a place that has the program I want so I had to find a place that would fit what I wanted to do for that. I wanted to play tennis so if they had a team I decided I would try and play.”
Rosati believes Skorich has a lot to offer to teams at the next level and knows she can succeed if she commits to it.
“She has a lot of confidence and I think she can help bring that out in other girls at any level. Being a captain and a team player, she’d bring that leadership experience to the college game and I know she’ be able to step up wherever she needed to at the next level. And she’ll definitely bring a lot of skill to any team. She’s a very good tennis player and she would continue to grow and improve her game at the next level.”
Looking back on her tennis career so far, Skorich says she couldn’t be where she is now without her family.
“My parents especially have been a huge motivation for me. No matter what, they’re always there at every meet cheering me on and I find myself looking for them when I’m out on the court. They’ve been driving me to lessons as long as I can remember so I’m extremely grateful that they’ve pushed me and helped me get where I am today.”