Q&A: Tennis's Sahagun on finding confidence, team chemistry

Leighann Sahagun. (Photo Courtesy of Shane Dwyer) Leighann Sahagun. (Photo Courtesy of Shane Dwyer)

After a 4-0 start and dropping only a single set in those four games, sophomore Leighann Sahagun is in the zone.

That’s not too shabby, considering the Flushing Meadows, N.Y., native only posted a .500 record after being thrown into the starting rotation last year and was 2-2 in her first two starts.

The up-and-down season, combined with injuries, left Sahagun wondering why she was playing.

At the beginning of this season however, the anxiety and nerves that plagued Sahagun the year before vanished, as she began to play with confidence and with a purpose.

Sahagun sat down with The State Press to talk about her strong start and regaining her confidence as well as her teammates, their relationship and her time at the U.S. Open.

SP: Last year, you went 11-11 and started 2-2. This season, you’re 4-0 and have only lost one set. How are you feeling right now?

LS: I feel amazing. I don’t want to come off like, cocky, but it feels so good to finally have everything click, like things go hand-in-hand. Like, all of the hard work is paying off I would say.

SP: Was there a particular moment when everything clicked?

LS: When we first started practice in the spring semester I was like, "Oh my God, I am going to lose every single match. This I going to be a disaster; it’s going to be the same thing as last year!" And then it came to match day and there were no nerves, which was not expected. I was so calm. Last year, every match, nerves. I got nervous in Miami, but it was like a different kind of nerves, like an adrenaline rush. Before it was just nerves like, "Oh my gosh, I hope I don’t tank right now."

SP: What made you so unconfident in yourself?

LS: With being injured in the fall and then being injured in the beginning of the spring freshman year, I forgot how to win. I was used to not playing and then getting thrown in, it was such a different mindset. Coming in now, I’m so much more prepared for what was expected of me this year, and I was able to handle it in a more mature way.

SP: Tennis is looked at as an individual sport, but your team’s motto is “play as a team, win as a team.” What does that mean to you?

LS: There’s no playing for yourself anymore. You don’t play for yourself. Last year, it was more for myself until the end of the year where, as things started to go together, I was playing more for the team. But when you are on a team, you can’t play for yourself anymore. You have other people to play for. You have to play for the Sun Devil community; you’re not playing for yourself anymore. I’m not playing for Leighann, I’m playing for my team because they believe in me and I believe in them.

SP: A couple days ago, coach Sheila McInerney also mentioned that competition should be fun, why did she mention that?

LS: Because if you don’t have fun, you don’t want to play. If you’re not having fun, there’s no motivation to be on the court.

SP: Was the team not having fun?

LS: I feel like they were so fed up — not fed up — they were more wrapped up with not losing. Whoever is not having fun was playing not to lose instead of playing to win. You could lose and still enjoy it. If you know you played your heart out, that’s like a good loss.

SP: Now, switching gears, you’re from Flushing Meadows, N.Y., right?

LS: Yeah.

SP: The home of the U.S. Open?

LS: Yes, it is.

SP: Have you ever been to the U.S. Open?

LS: Yeah, every year and I worked there in the summer. I’ve been going there since I was a little kid, and I’ve been training there since I was a little kid.

SP: What is your favorite moment of all of your times at the U.S. Open?

LS: I played U.S. Open Juniors.

SP: What was that like?

LS: Nerve-wracking. It was nerve-wracking. My dad was like, "Just try it!" So we signed up as an on-sight alternate because I’m five minutes away, why not?So I can always just go home, change, come back and come play the match. I didn’t expect to get in because, I mean, it’s U.S. Open Juniors. So my dad looks at the draw and he goes, "Leigh, you got in!"

SP: So, switching gears again, how much time do you spend with the team off the court? You all seem really close.

LS: The trip to Miami brought us together, because we were all together, hanging out, things like that. I actually spent Super Bowl Sunday with the team like Hannah (James), Jo (Joanna Smith), Dez (Desirae Krawczyk) and Ebony (Panoho). We’ve been able to really all bond.

SP: All right, now I have to ask, who was going for who in the Super Bowl?

LS: I was gong for the Ravens, Desirae was going for the 49ers and everybody else didn’t really care (laughs).

SP: So was there any tension then between you and Desirae at all?

LS: No, but I did a lot of gloating. On the first touchdown I was like, "In your face!"

SP: What goals do you have for yourself?

LS: My goal for myself is (to) just make sure I put 100 percent in all my matches. I cannot hold back, and I need to make sure that the intensity level, and my focus is there from five minutes before my match to after my match, until after we shake hands.

Reach the reporter at ejsmith7@asu.edu

Get the best of State Press delivered straight to your inbox.