Rancho Solano student discovers more than athletic accolades

Rancho Solano Prep School senior Neha Alety cheers during her state championship singles match against Safford High School’s Polly Evans after sweeping her in both sets Saturday, April 29 at the Paseo Racquet Center in Glendale. This was Alety’s second consecutive state championship. (submitted photo)

When Rancho Solano Preparatory School senior Neha Alety stepped off the tennis court Saturday, April 29, she left it a champion.

Not only did she earn her second singles state championship in Division III that day — which she did with relative ease — but she capped off an impressive career in which she only lost two matches, both earlier state championship matches.

To add to this already stellar resume, Alety has not lost a set over the past two years. She continued that feat in her last match by sweeping her opponent Polly Evans of Safford High School in both sets to win the state title.

By relying on numbers alone, Alety’s high school career looks to have been a breeze, but she asserts it was anything but easy.

“I think I had to put in all the effort I needed to in order to pull off those matches because they’re all consistent, they can all move everywhere around the court and they can get everything back,” she said in a May 2 interview.

Despite the difficulty of her endeavor, Alety did say she found wins starting to go to her head a bit early in her career as she longed for a more challenging draw.

That perception changed with the help of her parents and a well-timed first state championship loss that helped her gain a better perspective, including seeing her opponents as skilled tennis players and not pushovers.

“After that, I got a reality check that I really had to put in more effort than I had been doing before,” she said.
Experiences like these are what ended up shaping Alety into the person she is today.

The spark of a career

Alety said her tennis playing started when she was six years old at the behest of her father.

Her parents, Raman Alety and Prashanthi Baddam, said in a joint emailed response to the Independent they wanted her in sports because it could help keep her out of trouble and achieve her goals.

“Neha tried a few sports, liked individual sports and chose tennis over golf,” Alety’s parents said. “We just encouraged her to pursue her favorite sport. Tennis definitely helped her manage time and work with school and other activities.”

In kindling her new-found sport, Alety would go to the tennis courts at Hamilton High School in Chandler and practice with a local group.

That spark of interest led to an explosion of competition as Alety went on to play in United States Tennis Association club competitions.

However, her parents said something was missing from their daughter’s tennis experience.

“Club sports make kids highly competitive but varsity sports teach them how to be a student-athlete,” they said.

After only one year of USTA team tennis, Alety made the leap to playing in competitive performances. Her parents said she expressed a goal of playing collegiate tennis.

“Since college and high school sports basically are similar, we wanted her to be part of varsity tennis in addition to competing in USTA,” her parents said. “She really enjoyed being part of the Rancho Solano school tennis team for the last four years.”

Neha Alety played tennis at Rancho Solano Preparatory School in Scottsdale. (submitted photo)

High School competition

Upon arriving at Rancho Solano Prep School’s upper school, 9180 E. Vía de Ventura, she noticed there wasn’t a lot of enthusiasm around tennis.

“The team was here but when I was in the eighth grade, I didn’t really know there was a high school team,” she said.

Alety said the school knew she played and in a joint effort by her, the school and her dad, the team started to evolve.

While the team developed, Alety started on a tear through her freshman season that ultimately ended in her first of two state championship losses.

The story was much of the same through her sophomore year as she dominated through the season but lost the state championship.

After two consecutive state title losses, Alety said she was disappointed but that loss sparked something in her as she went into her junior season.

“Last year, I was saying ‘oh, I really want to get it this year. I have to get it. I can’t go my high school career with, every year, losing in the finals,’” she said.

Several factors aided in her winning her first state championship as a junior.

One, Alety said, was how her nerves began to cease before matches, allowing her to relax in tough situations.

She also did not over think matches too much, relying more on the basics and playing her game, something she did not do as well early on.

From that point on, Alety went on to finish her high school career undefeated, adding two state titles to her repertoire.

She said those early losses made her into the state champion that she is today.

“If I didn’t lose, I don’t think there’d be anything to learn so I’m glad that it happened,” she said.

Rancho Solano Prep School tennis coach Darren Otten said he has seen her grow both athletically and mentally, being impressed with her athletic ability and they way she moves on the court. He also saw her have her fair share of challenges.

“She is a perfectionist on the court and hates to lose even one point, which has its own challenges,” he said in a May 4 emailed response to questions. “She can be very hard on herself, even when she is winning very easily.”

Looking to the future

As her high school tennis career sunsets, Alety now looks to the future, which includes Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

There, she will study in a seven-year accelerated medical program. Her parents say she aims to be a pediatrician.

As for tennis, that future is a bit cloudy.

“The academics (at Nova Southeastern) will definitely be a lot more there for me,” Alety said. “I’m hoping to continue into college, if not my freshman year after I’ve settled, then hopefully my sophomore.”

If it came down to it, Alety said she would choose academics over tennis.

Despite the uncertainty, Alety will walk away with several new attributes she learned while playing tennis at Rancho Solano Prep School.

“Before the tennis team, I used to not have many friends, I used to be very quiet and be a follower in that sense,” she said.

“In the tennis team, I can really see my leadership skills grow because (my team) considers me the captain of the tennis team. I think over my four years, you can really see me change, my leadership skills change and not only on the tennis court.”

Those leadership skills led her to experiencing more academically. She said she got internships through Stanford University and UC Irvine because of leadership qualities she learned on the court.

Her parents have also seen their daughter grow over the course of her high school journey as she balanced several activities along with tennis.

“She has been very active in Suzuki violin and Indian Classical dance for the last 11 years,” they said. “Tennis has become part of her daily routine. On and off the court, she learned ‘never let success get to your head, never let failure get to your heart.’”

All in all, Alety is someone who loves the game of tennis and while the game can be considered an individual sport, the reason she loved the last four years is furthest from that notion.

“Once I joined the high school team, I definitely got that team sense and I made a lot more friends because of high school tennis too,” she said.

“I think that team bonding or that team connection you have is something you won’t get if you’re not playing the sport.”

News Services Reporter Josh Martinez can be contacted at jmartinez@newszap.com or at 623-445-2738

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