LARA Kaplan prefers to play tennis rather than talk much about it. But when asked by The AJN what it meant to be halfway through her first US College tennis season, the grounded 18-year-old and 2019 Maccabi NSW Junior Sportswoman of the Year recipient was happy to reflect.
“Playing college-level tennis has always been a dream of mine since [starting] high school,” Kaplan, who completed year 12 at Moriah College late last year, said.
“Binghamton University was my top choice for all the schools I was in contact with, so to be here [in the state of New York] is literally a dream come true.
“The facilities are incredible, every day is a new adventure, and I’m loving every moment so far.”
Before the HSC exams became her focus in 2019, the Maccabi White City Tennis Club junior was ranked sixth in Australia for her age (16) in 2018 and and made the second round of the Australian Tennis Championships in the 16 and under girls’ tournament.
Since joining the Binghamton Bearcats’ women’s tennis squad at the start of this year after earning a scholarship, Kaplan has played in seven of the first 12 rounds of the North East Region competition, and trains and plays tennis for 18-20 hours per week.
She played in the Bearcats’ first win of the season, in round 6 on February 2 against Sacred Heart West Point, winning her singles and doubles matches, and experienced a mix of solid wins and some tight losses, including by a third set tie-breaker, in the following six rounds.
With seven rounds remaining, the Bearcats have a steep mountain to climb to make the finals, having won five rounds and lost 11.
But Kaplan said her aim is simply to keep improving and contributing.
“The level here is very tough, as so many teams have international students. It’s an incredible opportunity getting to play new girls every weekend, and learning how to adapt to many different game styles.
“My doubles game has also hugely improved, as it is an integral part of college tennis.
“One of my favourite things about being here is the travelling we do every weekend, as not only do I get to spend time with my teammates, but I also get to see different parts of America.”
Kaplan said a big factor for her in choosing to accept the tennis scholarship at Binghamton was that more than 20 per cent of its student population is Jewish.
“As Judaism is a huge part of my identity, it’s great to a have a college that has a shule and Shabbat services every week,” Kaplan said.
“Also, it’s great to have a couple of girls in the team who are Jewish, as they have introduced me to all the Jewish activities on campus.
“My goals for the remainder of this season are to face new challenges, keep improving my tennis abilities and build a closer relationship with my teammates.”