San Dieguito Academy senior Jennifer Kerr plays her best tennis when she remains calm and stays with her aggressive style.
It’s a philosophy that has her ranked 48th in the country among her graduating class and helped her to a CIF San Diego Section Division I singles title in 2015 — the first ever for a Mustang female.
And it worked again on Nov. 11, when top-ranked Kerr got past No. 2 Jennifer Richards from La Jolla Country Day, 7-5, 6-3, to earn her second consecutive section championship.
“Sometimes when it’s a really tight match, a lot of people fall back to playing defensively,” Kerr told the Encinitas Advocate. “But I try to tell myself to just breathe. I know I play my best when I’m loose and aggressive, so even if that isn’t working for the moment, I just focus on what are the few things I can do better to keep playing aggressively.”
The diminutive SDA standout has honed her style of play over the past few years with her personal coach, who originally had her playing defensively to try and wait for an opponent to make a mistake. Despite her size, however, Kerr has always liked charging the net.
“Because he was teaching me that, I couldn’t help but to develop that kind of game,” Kerr explained. “But then he saw this professional … who was short for a tennis player, but super aggressive and effective in that style of play. So now my style of play is aggressive, I move to the net whenever I can.
“I like that I still have that consistency from the first style and now I enjoy playing aggressively. It’s good to have both because it kind of balances out.”
The match with Richards was the only real challenge Kerr faced on her road to the title. After dominating the Avocado League singles tournament — she dropped just two games in five matches to capture the conference crown — Kerr got a bye into the CIF Round of 32.
Kerr opened her championship run with a 6-0, 6-0 win over Hannah Quirk (Coronado), pounded Rancho Bernardo’s Angela Liu, 6-0, 6-1, and then defeated Britney Pellechoud from Westview by that same score in the quarterfinals.
Third-seeded Francis Cornwall from Poway made Kerr work a little in a 6-1, 6-3 semifinal victory, then Richards brought her “A” game to the title match, especially in the first set.
“That first set was tough, it was really back and forth,” said SDA coach Joe Tomasi. “But in the second set I could see Jennifer’s confidence rising and rising.
“We had her try a few things, like be aggressive when the girl kept hitting her lobs, but the biggest thing was just to keep her calm. Last year, I didn’t talk to her as much during the finals but this year I went down every time they changed over and just chatted with her briefly to keep her comfortable.
“She always has this great combination of being humble and confident and that all came through for her. She handled it like a little professional.”
And that might be good practice for Kerr, who became just the sixth San Diego girl since 1974 to repeat as section champ. Two of those girls went on to play professionally.
Both of her San Diego Section finals matches have been against players from La Jolla Country Day, as Kerr edged Paulina Ferrari for the 2015 crown. Ferrari and Kerr are good friends who will team up to play collegiately at Columbia next season.
“She’s in some pretty elite company and it’s going to be really fun to see how she can do the next four years in college,” Tomasi said of Kerr.
In addition to her regional success, Kerr has made her mark in national tournaments throughout the past few years, most recently at a USTA National Selection Tournament in Hawaii last month.
Kerr and her partner Maia Sun, a fellow Californian, won the girls 18s doubles title and Kerr reached the semifinals of the singles draw. In that singles semi, Kerr fell to Hannah Zhao, a junior at Torrey Pines who didn’t participate in the CIF tournament.