As effortless as she makes the game of tennis look, something always seems to appear from nowhere to threaten Nathalie Joanlanne’s grandest plans.
Last year, it was a case of mononucleosis that hit her just before the District 2 singles tournament.
This season, a strained calf took a swing at slowing her down as she was preparing to play at states.
Like every opponent she faced this season, Nathalie Joanlanne beat them both.
The Wyoming Seminary junior not only defended her District 2 Class 2A singles crown, she became the first Wyoming Valley Conference girls tennis player in 10 years to win a PIAA Class 2A singles title, easily earning The Times Leader player of the year award along the way.
“When I first came in as a freshman, I really thought the goal was unreachable — to be a state champion,” Joanlanne, 16, said. “It really meant a lot. That was my goal from the end of last season, and to cap the season off like that was just awesome.”
Eye-popping is probably a better way to describe Joanlanne’s 24-0 junior season, as the daughter of Frank and Allison Joanlanne of Dallas swept every match she played through districts and dropped just one set over the entire season — in the opening round of the state tournament.
But going in, her spirits had dropped.
Two weeks before the start of states, Joanlanne suffered a quad strain that limited her training and toyed with her self-confidence.
“I couldn’t play for two weeks,” Joanlanne said. “That was kind of scary.”
“Going in, she was very nervous, kind of deflated about playing,” said her mom Allison, who is also Wyoming Seminary’s tennis coach. “She couldn’t practice, and when she did go to practice, she had a bad practice. She really was very upset going into states and the first match showed it.”
This, after Joanlanne fought off a case of mono to win her first District 2 title as a sophomore when rainy weather pushed that tournament back and gave her a few extra days to recuperate.
“I know,” Nathalie Joanlanne sighed about the physical fate that keeps twisting her ambitions. “It’s kind of ridiculous and very frustrating. But I’ve had a lot of experience with nationals and how to overcome those kinds of things. I’ve been in classes where the seminars are about mental toughness.
“It’s not just about the opponent who’s across the net from you.”
Since winning the state championship, Joanlanne has netted congratulations and compliments from her classmates at Sem to her fellow players on the USTA circuit - where she’s ranked among the top 50 of 400 players in the Middle Atlantic Section, which includes Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey.
“What does it take to become a state champion? It takes a lot of hard work,” Allison Joanlanne said, “a lot of off-court training and on-court training, as well.”
Some of Nathalie’s training regimen included regular visits to renowned area athletic guru Dr. Malcolm Conway, who devised a rigorous strength program for her.
“It just helps you so much,” said Nathalie, who aspires to play Division I college tennis and dreams of doing it at the University of Delaware. “I had been going to Dr. Conway for my injuries. I just started his training program in January. It does take a lot. It takes a lot of hard work and dedication. It really takes commitment.”
Maybe from the start, Nathalie Joanlanne was destined to take this path to a state gold medal.
Her mom coached the Misericordia University women’s team before stepping in to guide Sem’s girls and boys teams in 2012 when previous head coach Mike Balutanski fell ill.
“Yeah, we started her young, at 4 (years old), just throwing balls,” Allison Joanlanne said. “She didn’t play seriously until she was about 9 or 10. I played myself, I’ve been a teaching pro. If it wasn’t for me, maybe she wouldn’t have even picked up a racquet. But she took to it.
“Did I see this coming? She worked hard, but a state championship is something that’s so, so high up. You always have the best competition there.”
It turned out, nobody was better than Nathalie Joanlanne this season.
She owns a 41-1 overall singles record during the past two seasons, is undefeated through 40 matches of regular season and District 2 competition since her sophomore year, and has two district titles, a third district finals appearance as a freshman, and a shining gold medal that shows she’s the best in the state.
With one high school season remaining, what’s left?
“Just to do it again,” Nathalie Joanlanne said. “I’m definitely going to have to work hard again. I think I’m just going to try to do it again.
“To be a back-to-back state champion would be awesome.”