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Pope's decision to focus on tennis meant giving up basketball, but it gave her a shot at a state title.
MATT GENTRY | The Roanoke Times Northside junior Karlie Pope and Bill Pope — her father, coach and frequent practice partner — are headed to the Group AA semifinals starting today at Virginia Tech
MATT GENTRY | The Roanoke Times Karlie Pope works on her backhand at Walrond Park in a practice for this week’s Group AA state tournament.
Thursday, June 6, 2013
Karlie Pope gave up basketball last winter to concentrate on tennis.
It has been a net gain for the Northside junior.
Pope won the Region III girls singles title and will face Hidden Valley's Ceyda Durmaz at 9 a.m. today at Virginia Tech in a Group AA semifinal.
Pope, who lost in the first round of the regional in two previous attempts, said she has improved her game several notches after working out at Sun Tennis with Roanoke professional Ravi Anantaraman on afternoons she might otherwise have been shooting free throws.
Nevertheless, walking away from one court sport to another was not an easy call. Pope was a starting guard for the Vikings as a sophomore in 2011-12.
"It was probably the hardest decision I've made," she said. "It took a very long time to decide, but I just realized how much I started to love tennis. I really thought I could improve if I didn't play basketball.
"It was hard because basketball was my favorite sport for so long."
Perhaps adding to her dilemma was the fact that Northside's girls tennis coach is her father, Bill Pope, the same man who has more than 400 career victories as the Vikings boys basketball coach.
According to dad, the ball was solely in Karlie's court.
"The first thing was, it wasn't about me," Bill Pope said. "It wasn't, but yet I know the dynamics of all that. I understand how it is as a [basketball] coach. You want players.
"I just wanted her to be able to say at the end it was her decision. The real question was, 'What do you want to do with your time? And it's your time, not mine.' I just wanted her to be respectful to all parties and I think she did that."
Karlie Pope's three older sisters - Cassidy, Callie and Kelsey - all played tennis for Northside. Kelsey Pope reached the 2007 Region III semifinals.
The Popes certainly did not have a trip to Virginia Tech booked before last week's Region III tournament at Spotswood High School.
Bill Pope didn't even know the exact date of the Group AA semifinals.
"We just were thinking, let's just see how this goes," he said. "I didn't know the day of the week of it or anything of it until we got done last Tuesday."
Karlie Pope's breakthrough victory was a 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 win over Brianna DeLaGarza of Spotswood, overcoming a 4-2 deficit in the final set of the first three-set match she had ever played.
A 6-2, 6-0 victory over Broadway's Holly Knupp in the final punched Pope's state tournament ticket.
"This year I just really wanted to get past the first round," Pope said. "From there on, I was just kind of surprising myself. I didn't know I had that in me to do well."
Her opponent today is no stranger. Durmaz handed Pope a pair of straight-sets losses during the regular season with a powerful baseline game.
"Her big hitting is a little intimidating sometimes," Pope said. "She's a really good player. I've played her twice. I shouldn't be surprised by anything."
Bill Pope offered his daughter some basic coaching advice.
"The biggest challenge always in sports is it starts with yourself," he said. "If you really focus on the other person a whole lot, you can't be your best. That's pretty much my approach with basketball too."
Pope said she worked on improving her second serve while trying out new grips for backhands and volleys.
Bill Pope, a former college basketball player at Bridgewater, brought his daughters up as recreational tennis players, letting them choose their
own pace rather than force-feeding them professional instruction.
He recognized his daughter's need for extra help.
"No question about it," he said. "I know how to compete, and I know how to play the game, but honestly at some point I said I can't do that next level. I've learned a lot by her learning a lot."
But maybe not quite enough to win those father-daughter tennis matches.
"She definitely beats me," Bill Pope said. "That was the question last year. She now tries to make sure I don't cry afterward."
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