CHELMSFORD – When she was four years old, Sarah Saliba’s parents put a tennis racquet in her hands for the first time. When she was eight, her grandmother gave her her first sewing machine.
Today, the Chelmsford High senior is not only the No. 1 singles player who has helped the tennis team get off to a 5-2 start, but she’s also very crafty off the court. Priming for a career in fashion design, she has already made some 20 dresses for herself, dating back to her middle school days.
Sharp with her hands, Saliba, a two-year captain, is the extremely bubbly, energetic and positive player on the court who strives to be the best leader, teammate and friend that she can be.
“I was the assistant coach her freshman year and I hadn’t seen her play from then until this year and her growth is just incredible,” said first-year Lions coach Kristina Kea. “But what really stands out to me is her personality. She is so upbeat and she’s a captain but she also acts like a coach. She gets everyone involved and she makes everyone feel welcome and comfortable. ”
Saliba made the varsity team as a freshman, playing doubles on a team that finished 11-4, falling in the first round of the Div. 1 North tournament to Acton-Boxboro. Last year, the Lions were 5-4, which included going 1-1 in the Open Tournament, again losing to AB, while Saliba played doubles. This year, she made the leap to No. 1 singles, a big jump in the ultra competitive Merrimack Valley Conference.
“It’s tough, so it feels good when you do win because you’re in a position where potentially you could lose a lot so you can’t take the losses hard and you just move on to the next game. I have a great supporting team and they always boost me up when I’m playing, ”Saliba said. “You get more into your head when you play singles. It’s all you and you don’t have someone else to talk to. There’s a little bit more pressure, but at the same time you get to control the point.
“It’s kind of a good thing and a bad thing because any mistake that’s made is your own so you’re not relying on anyone but at the same time, you have to carry all of the weight.”
Saliba has found success after jumping to singles, sporting a 4-2 record.
“She’s the type of player who plays to win. Sometimes you have girls who play really well in practice and then a match comes and they are afraid to not lose the point. Sarah goes out there and hits her hardest shot, her best shot every time out, ”Kea said. “She plays to win and always plays her best. She also takes whatever advice we give her.
“Her serves, volleys and backhand are all great. She likes her forehand better. She hits hard, with top spin and down the line. She does all of that well. She likes to make her opponents move all around, and she’s not afraid to hit it out or hit it long. “
That improvement on the court has given Saliba much more confidence to not only take on the best of the MVC, but also hopefully family members.
“My brother (Ryan, a former CHS player), is not playing tennis (at the University of Hartford), so I think now I can probably beat him. He’s a little rusty so I might have to challenge him to a match this summer. Normally my brother beats me, but I think now I could kick his butt, ”she said with a laugh.
After graduation and the summer, Saliba is off to New York to attend the Fashion Institute of Technology, a two-year program.
“My grandmother is the one who started me down this road. She’s always been really crafty. I go to her house and there’s just buckets of beads and other stuff everywhere. I learned everything through her, ”said Saliba, who is also a member of the school’s National Honor Society, the National English Society and the National World Language Society.
“I don’t remember making my first real outfit, but I remember putting some together with just tape. My first sewn dress I was probably 11 years old. Then around seventh grade, I started making my own dresses for school dances and then last year I made a dress for cotillion. My (senior) prom dress is in the works, but I’m a bit behind on it. ”
And once that’s completed, she’s hoping that her fashion design career, like her tennis career, will be filled with aces.
“The ultimate goal would be to have my own company one day, but that’s a long way down the line. For now, there are so many opportunities in New York, so I’m excited to see what that brings, ”she said.