Culture shock, not quite. Lessons learned, definitely.
Local tennis players Ariel Shulman and Luke Flanagan received an up-close and personal look at some of the best talent from not only the United States, but also worldwide after returning from the inaugural Nick Bollettieri Discovery Open last weekend in Bradenton, Fla.
The event began Friday and concluded this past Monday. Eighty-five participants representing 20 countries attended.
Shulman, who finished runner-up at No. 1 singles this past spring at the W.Va. state meet, competed in the 15-year-old girls bracket at the Discovery Open. The freshman from Parkersburg Catholic received a first-round bye then defeated Elisabeth Parr 6-0, 6-0 in the quarterfinal round before the tables were turned by second-seeded Star Makarome, who defeated Shulman 6-0, 6-0 in the semifinals.
"I took some time out to watch the other girls and how they played - they were very consistent," Shulman said. "In order to get better, I need to work on my strokes and be more consistent. They don't miss very often, and that's what gets them on top."
Flanagan represented West Virginia in the 15-year-old division on the boys side and managed to win one match out of four attempts in a round-robin format consisting of six players. After managing to win just a total of two games in his three defeats, the sophomore from Williamstown capped off the experience by defeating Andre Li 6-1, 6-3.
"I played a kid from India in my first match and it seemed like he had an answer for every shot I hit," Flanagan said. "The level of tennis last weekend is what I want to accomplish in my tennis career."
Shulman and Flanagan didn't learn of their invitation to this exclusive event until a week before they were scheduled to depart from the Mid-Ohio Valley. They earned the trip after sending in a resume of their achievements and a video depicting their skills on the tennis court.
"I didn't really have anything else planned other than having to miss the last day of school," said Shulman, who couldn't take her finals until Tuesday.
Like Shulman, Flanagan was impressed by the facility at the International Management Group (IMG) Academy. In addition to 35 outdoor and four indoor hard courts, the academy features 16 green clay courts and Nick's War Room to provide video analysis in a classroom-style setting.
"We had training in the morning then we would go test our agility and strength," Flanagan said. "It went very well."
Added Shulman, "One day, we had a speaker talk to us about equipment, how important it is to care of it and all the different things which can affect your play."
Joining the 15-year-old tennis players were boys and girls ages 11 and 13. The six age group winners received a one-week tennis camp and evaluation from Nick Bollettieri and his staff.
"What I'll remember are the kids and the level they play at," Shulman said. "I want to be like them as much as I can and hopefully I can get to that level. I think if I work hard enough, I can do it."
Contact Kerry Patrick at firstname.lastname@example.org