CHUBBUCK – Everybody has imperfections, but not everybody confronts them.
Cassie Stoddard confronts hers, showing that not only did her tennis success exceed that of a typical freshman, but her maturity did too. The Highland High tennis player says she is not the fastest nor the biggest. But she is one of the brightest, according to her coach.
“Cassie’s an extremely smart player,” Highland coach Ron Osborn said. “She knows exactly what her limitations are. She’s not the fastest girl. She doesn’t have the biggest serve or hardest ground strokes, but she conducts herself on the court with experience. She knows how to set a point up. She’s always in the right position. She’s always thinking out there.”
Stoddard placed third at the 5A state championships this season, becoming the first Highland singles player to medal at state since 2004 – the same year Stoddard was born. The freshman also won the 5A District 5-6 girls singles championship and had a 31-1 record, with her only loss coming in the state semifinals to the eventual champion.
“This year, I thought, was a huge success,” Osborn said of the 2019 Journal All-Area Singles Tennis Player of the Year. “She should be extremely proud of the season she had.”
Stoddard knew what worked best for her, aware of her strengths and weaknesses. Simple as that. Superb results followed.
“You have to play around your weaknesses and improve your weaknesses, so they become strengths,” Stoddard said. “But in the meantime, when they still are weaknesses, you have to work around them.”
Pardon the interruption, but it’s worth noting her strengths too, which she listed and include her aforementioned tennis IQ, mental focus, consistency, relentlessness and honed technique.
Her attributes were on display before high school, as Osborn said he was almost certain two years ago that she would be his No. 1 girls singles player as a freshman.
“Once she was in high school, it was a no-brainer. She was ready to jump right in the lineup,” Osborn said. “Even though this may be her first year in high school, she’s been competing at a high level for many years now. I don’t think this first year of playing high school tennis was very intimidating at all for her. She was ready for it.”
The tennis court has been Stoddard’s natural habitat over many years, squeezing in as much time on it as she can, which included a lot of one-on-one coaching by her mother, Stacey Stoddard.
“I love the mental aspect of the game and the physical too,” Cassie said. “It’s a very technical game, and I just think it’s just a game with a lot of layers and it’s not simple and it keeps me thinking.”
The best illustration of Cassie’s dedication was doing half-days for three years at Franklin Middle School, so she could practice tennis midday when Juniper Hills Country Club was not as populated. She performed homeschooling afterward.
“She begged me to homeschool her,” Stacey said. “That was probably when she grew the most.”
Cassie, a full-time Highland student, is the fifth child in her family to represent the Rams tennis team, and her mother said Cassie has been the most committed among them. That may be why the freshman finished higher at state in singles than any of her siblings ever did.
Cassie’s commitment to the sport intensified at 9 years old when she received her first taste of success, winning her first tennis tournament, in Idaho Falls.
Her mother remembers a lot more about it than Cassie, who excitedly received her first-place trophy and spent the rest of the day talking about it and what she wanted to do next in tennis.
“She was hitting winners all over the court, and I almost felt bad for the opponent because she was taking the poor girl out,” Stacey said. “That’s probably where it all started right there. She was pretty excited she won.”
Fast forwarding to her freshman season, Cassie has already achieved more at Highland than any other Rams singles player in this decade. Combine her experience and skills on top of her propensity for introspection, that’s what happens.
“One of our favorite quotes in my family is: ‘Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.’” Cassie said. “I’m not the fastest. I’m not the tallest, but you don’t have to be when you’re willing to work hard.”