Date: Wednesday, 15 November 2017
When Helix Charter High won the San Diego Section Division II team tennis title two weeks ago, it was the first such championship in that sport in the school’s 66-year history — boys or girls.
One of the major contributors, Winta Woldeab, was happy but still not sure how to react.
Since the 14-year-old freshman has only been a Helix student for two months, she hasn’t quite fully grasped the impact winning a section crown.
“I didn’t know that it was the school’s first — I think I’ll appreciate it more later on,” said the slim, 5-foot-9 Woldeab, who has lost just four games this season and swept through the Division II playoffs. She won every match 6-0.
That proved crucial, especially in the semifinals, when the Scotties battled Sage Creek to a 9-9 tie. The team with the most wins would advance and that 18-0 score through three singles matches helped Helix move on, 76-72.
Not that Woldeab was ever worried.
“I had a feeling if it came down to that we’d be OK because our No. 2 singles player, Venous Ghazi, also did real well,” said the soft-spoken Woldeab.
The championship came a little easier as Helix topped Point Loma, 11-7.
It’s all new, the championships, the non-league and league matches and even the section singles play which concludes this week.
Tennis? Definitely nothing new.
Woldeab, whose parents came to the United States from Eritrea (East Africa), has two older brothers who also play tennis. Senay, the oldest, graduates this spring from Helix and the middle brother, Siem (pronounced Sam) is a sophomore.
Her father, Tewalde, drives a taxi on the graveyard shift so he can watch Winta play, while her mother, Semainesh, has a more traditional accountant day job.
“It’s very stressful,” Tewalde said. “I don’t like her to see me because she should play her own game.”
That said, the father says the family stresses academics first, resulting in a 4.8 GPA for Winta.
“Sports can get you a scholarship, but you can get injured,” he said. “That’s when it’s important to have an education.”
While coach Jay Diaz, who has been at Helix for the last 12 years, says the two boys have been among the best players he’s ever had, Winta (which means “wish” in Tigrinya, the language of Eritrea) is by far the best he’s seen.
“She has God-given talent,” said Diaz, “but she also has no hesitation to come to me or her outside coach to ask questions. She’s a great listener. She recognizes her strengths and her weaknesses.”
Watching her play before the section championships, it was difficult to see a weakness.
She has a powerful and accurate serve, solid groundstrokes and covers the court like a gazelle, coming to the net to unleash a wicked overhead slam or racing back to hit a sizzling backhand that barely clears the net or a lob that forces her opponent back, playing right into Woldeab’s hands.
She’s been playing since she was 6 and followed her brothers across the street to practice at Helix, so she is a factor on the Junior National level.
The word “fun” is sprinkled generously in her conversation, as in playing for the school is fun because she likes the team aspect and because it has helped her assimilate to campus life.
It was also “fun” when she and her family returned to Eritrea when she was 11.
“That was very fun,” she said of the trip. “You can walk anywhere you want. It was so pretty. I don’t speak Tigrinya well, but I can understand it.”
She is often asked if she can beat Siem and she just shakes her head.
“He kills me,” she said of Siem who is ranked nationally. “But usually when someone does I learn so it won’t happen again.”
It doesn’t work against Siem because, she said, they always end up arguing — like typical brothers and sisters.
Brand is a freelance writer.