When Caroline Ryba first picked up a racket, it wasn't love at first site.
“My family always wanted me to start playing, but I really didn’t like it at first,” said Ryba, who was introduced to the sport age nine. “I was a gymnast at that point.”
However, as she began to enter local tournaments, the feeling of winning easily warmed Ryba up to the sport. Soon, she was spending two hours per day practicing at in Northbrook with her coach, Su Hel.
The hard work began to pay off quickly, and the freshman is now the No. 6 ranked player in the Girls 14-and-under division in the Midwest.
“We’ve been working a lot on my forehand and backhand slice, as well as hitting different types of serves,” said Ryba. “This will all help me transition into the net more easily and play to my strengths of being an all-court player.”
Between the daily practice and rigorous academic course load during the week--and spending more than 20 weekends a year competing in the biggest regional tournaments throughout the Midwest--Ryba’s schedule is enough to intimidate just about anyone. However, it’s something she says she's grown accustomed to over the years.
“I do get decent amounts of homework, but it’s not that difficult anymore,” she said. “I’ve gotten used to prioritizing and making the most of the free time that I do have.”
Ryba credits much of her success on and off the court to her parents, whose support she says has been invaluable in her development.
“They’re really involved and take me to every tournament, which definitely brings a little bit of extra motivation,” said Ryba. “They’ve watched me play so much at this point that they really understand my game and always have advice after my matches.”
Ryba also got a taste of high school competition this past fall when she competed at her first state meet at Buffalo Grove High School, winning two rounds before losing to Homewood-Flossmoor’s Adesuwa Osabuohien.
She intends to play on the team at Glenbrook South for her remaining three years of high school and said she is looking forward to the experience.
“High school tennis is more laid back than an actual tournament, which is really nice, and it will be great to be part of a team,” she said. “There are some really good players in the Chicago area, so there’s still a lot to gain from playing these matches.”
For now, Ryba said she is getting ready for a series of national tournaments over the next three months.