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Third Time’s a Charm for Olivia Dorner

Akin to the fabled tortoise’s calculated race to the finish line ahead of the hare, South Williamsport High School’s junior tennis sensation Olivia Dorner’s assent to the top of the PIAA tennis world took longer than she had hoped: but it cannot be disputed, her unchallenged skill left both opponents and spectators in appreciative awe.

Akin to the fabled tortoise’s calculated race to the finish line ahead of the hare, South Williamsport High School’s junior tennis sensation Olivia Dorner’s assent to the top of the PIAA tennis world took longer than she had hoped: but it cannot be disputed, her unchallenged skill left both opponents and spectators in appreciative awe.

Dorner’s third visit to the PIAA state championships proved to be the charm as she became the first District 4 player to win gold after defeating Villa Maria Academy’s Tara Thomas, 6-0, 6-1, in the Class AA final earlier this month. The victory came a few hours after she vanquished Knoch’s Laura Grab 6-2, 6-2 in the semifinals. The previous two seasons Dorner had also reached Hershey, finishing third as a freshman and taking second place as a sophomore.

“I am really happy how everything turned out and thankful for everyone who has helped me get to where I am; the Tennis Center, my parents, everyone that I hit with and my coaches,” Dorner said. “I am really happy with how I played and how everything went.

“It has definitely been difficult. The first two years, there were some unfortunate events, but I was able to refocus and continue to go after my goal, which was state champion, and keep practicing to get better and move forward.”

Her crowning accomplishment comes after three dominating regular season performances on the Mountaineers tennis team. During her young career she has never lost to a District Four opponent, won three consecutive District titles while compiling an astounding 61-2 personal record; the two losses coming in her previous two state championship appearances.

Olivia’s climb to the top of the tennis mountain is much more than an overnight hike. Tennis is a family staple in her home. Her father, John Dorner, is a United States tennis certified professional at the Central PA Tennis Center as well as Williamsport High School girls’ tennis coach in the fall. He was a college standout at Juniata College. He has been the driving force in his daughter’s tennis development.

As Olivia describes it, “I played when I was younger, but I was always doing other sports and really didn’t begin to focus on tennis until about 12 or 13. It was then that I decided this was what I wanted to do and play the game full time.”

Since then, Olivia has maintained a daily regimen.

“Each day, I’ll get up and eat breakfast and then go play for an hour and a half or two hours. Then, after I take care of school work, I’ll again work out for a couple hours. There aren’t that many people around here to hit with, but I try and play as much as possible. I pretty much hit twice a day, either with my Dad or some local guys around here, just practicing a lot. It is important to stay focused and keep the same mentality.”

“People can watch Olivia play tennis and see how good she is,” reasoned South Williamsport High School coach Theresa Summerson. “But what they don’t see is how deeply committed she is to what she is doing. Watching her not quite make it at Hershey the last two years, never once did she waiver. She just took on the attitude, tomorrow I start training again and that is exactly what she did. The results are evident now.

“It has been a great pleasure and privilege haaving her on our team. Tennis has been her passion for life and passion is something you can’t coach. She has a really neat combination of a passion for the game and athletic ability that is phenomenal.”

Describing her style of play as “pretty aggressive” Dorner’s focus is to always hit her targets and spots. “When I am drilling with my Dad I focus a lot on moving my shots around with the objective of forcing my opponent to constantly move all around the court. That style of play opens up the court and gives me more opportunities to place the ball where I’d like.”

With all due respect to her regular season opponents, Olivia’s aggressive style of play is rarely challenged.

“The regular season matches are tough because there are girls I’m playing that just want to get a point. I feel bad because I don’t want that. So sometimes it is tough to keep the proper focus and mentality as if it were a bigger tournament.”

“One of Olivia’s strengths is her ability to keep her emotions in check,” Summerson added. “During the regular season she has dominated her matches, but when she suffered those two losses in state play the past two years she maintained an even keel. To me that was really special, to play the match and control her emotions.”

With one more year of high school tennis ahead of her, Dorner’s goal is the same as it has been, “hopefully, to do the same thing I’ve been doing. I need to keep practicing, keep the same mindset, and shoot to repeat the same result next year.”

“After high school I will be trying to get into a good college where I will be able to play on the tennis team and continue to grow with my game.”

In addition to her greatness, Summerson explained Olivia has had a positive influence on tennis in South Williamsport.

“We’ve had several good years in tennis and that is just from girls who are dedicated and happen to be living here, which has been great for me. But it has stirred up some interest from the great things she is achieving. The last few years there has been a greater dedication to practice and off-season stuff from among the girls coming out for the team.”

As for that championship Saturday in Hershey, Dorner’s approach was matter-of-fact.
“On the morning of the championship match I got up at 6:30 a.m., got myself ready and went to eat breakfast. It wasn’t anything glamorous. I ate some cereal, oatmeal and whatever they had and then went over to the club and got ready for the match.”

Two quick, workmanlike matches later, the championship gold was relocating to South Williamsport and District Four for the first time ever.

Asked what she liked to do for fun, tennis was at the forefront.

“I love traveling. When I go to the various tournaments I love seeing new cities and exploring the areas. That is a great benefit of going to the tournaments. It is the best of both worlds. You get to play and also get to see other places and I love that.

“Tennis is a great lifetime sport. You can play it all through your life. Sometimes when people begin to play the sport it may be frustrating or difficult. But I would encourage people who might want to try the game to stick with it, keep playing and you’ll get better.”

“Olivia has provided me many special moments, but obviously her state champion win is right at the top of the list,” Summerson concluded.” It was great she could do that with her family watching, especially her Dad. John has essentially trained her since she was a small child. Being able to see her share that moment with her Dad was really special.”

Over the years District Four athletes have accomplished some remarkable feats. Olivia Dorner has now engraved her name on that very special list.

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