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A little over a year ago, Coach Ugalde took over La Sierra High School’s tennis program.  He brought with him 8 years of coaching experience and a dream of building a tennis program that would one day dominate the River Valley League in Southern California.  Waiting for him was a team composed mostly of first time players with little or no tennis experience and playing with mid-grade tennis equipment.  In many of our nation’s under-resourced schools, such as La Sierra High, the high cost of tennis lessons, clinics and competitive equipment are luxuries that their students and families simply cannot afford.  La Sierra High School, specifically, serves a student population that is mostly Hispanic (80%) and where 85% of students are economically disadvantaged.  In partnership with Wilson, Second Serve launched the Wilson Grant to help Title I and under-resourced schools by providing them with quality tennis equipment.  As a recipient of the Wilson Grant, La Sierra High received 10 new Wilson racquets to help them on their way to building a competitive tennis program.  I had the wonderful opportunity to speak with Coach Ugalde and learned more about how the Wilson Grant has impacted his players and program, and how they are making strides toward his goal of creating a tennis “dynasty” in the Inland Empire:


Q: First off, congrats on receiving the Wilson Grant!  How are your players enjoying the new Wilson racquets?  Has it helped their confidence as players?


A: Oh, of course! My players generally would buy some pretty, I don't know, I wouldn't call them basic or low-level rackets, but they would come to practice with what they could find in the surrounding area. We really don't have many tennis shops around our area, so they would be using rackets that they bought from Target or Walmart, maybe Big Five.  So I would call them mid-level rackets. Then the rackets that we got from Wilson were, I'd say, advanced, high-level rackets. So when they walk out on the court now with more confidence. The equipment does matter a lot.


Q: Having the right equipment definitely matters a lot.  How has the new equipment enhanced your team's practices and competitive play so far?


A: Well, we're in a six team league.  When I took over, they had never won a match.  Now we're fourth in the league, and we're on our way up. The majority of the team are freshmen and sophomores. So mostly 9th and 10th graders, with maybe the oldest one on the team having about a year experience. So to go from being the worst in league to now climbing up two rungs to fourth in league, it has to do with everything! But the rackets, the equipment, is definitely a huge part of it. They can hit harder, they can play harder. They can play the six days a week that we play. They can play that. And they know that their rackets aren't going to get bent as a full metal racket from Target would do. It would get bent and then eventually lose its tension.

Q: Sounds like a vast improvement!  Now with the equipment no longer holding you back, what are your goals and hopes for this coming tennis season?


A: Well in girls season, we're still building, still a growing team. The boys team last year took third in league after being last in league. So this year we're going for a league championship. We want it, and the girls season ended yesterday with league finals, and I'm starting to train the boys today. We're starting with our cardio and conditioning, and we're going to get out there.


Q: That’s amazing!  Now, with your team’s recent success, are you expecting more growth for the program in the coming years ahead?

A: Oh of course! What I want to bring is a tennis dynasty to La Sierra High School. I already know that some of the players have little brothers and little sisters that are already talking about when they get to La Sierra, they're going to play tennis. And, I mean, that has to do everything with the dedication from the kids that join the team now and then knowing that they have decent equipment really changes their mind about things. And going out there and having the confidence that comes with the high level equipment, because I hate to say it, but maybe they would be laughed at for having a low level racket.

Q: Before we wrap up, is there anything else that you would like to add or share with us?


A: Watch for us. We're creating a dynasty. We're going to start it. I want La Sierra to dominate the River Valley league in Southern California, and we're going to make a name for ourselves. You're going to see us in the news media, you're going to see us in the newspapers, and we're going to win the league, and we're going to go to CIF. There's no stopping us at this point!

Under Coach Ugalde’s guidance and vision and the players’ hard work, La Sierra High’s tennis program has a bright future ahead of them.  Second Serve is proud to play a part in that journey by providing the team with access to quality tennis equipment through the Wilson Grant.   Beyond the joy of playing, the students will experience friendships, a sense of community and invaluable lessons on discipline and overcoming challenges through competitive play.

By Levi Jefferson

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