Tennis Tales: An Off-Court Conversation with Laurel Springs School Student-Athlete Stefan Regalia

9/23/22

Wake up, train hard, study hard, play hard, repeat. That’s a day in the life of Laurel Springs School senior and top-ranked boys’ Junior Tennis Champions Center (JTCC) athlete Stefan Regalia.

The future University of Virginia Cavalier has come a long way since he was four years old, captivated by tennis for the first time ever while watching his sister play the sport at the local YMCA. A natural knack for being on the court and two years of developing his skills later, Stefan joined the JTCC to see how far he could take his tennis talent—and how far his tennis talent could take him.

“I have a lot of friends who are much more talented than me,” Stefan insists. “But I think work ethic and drive every single day is what brought me to where I am today.”

Stefan Regalia's journey to Laurel Springs School

Stefan, a born-and-raised Virginian, started at Laurel Springs in the 7th grade. In his public school days, the up-and-coming tennis titan struggled to balance training (he used to have “only” three hours a day for practice, Stefan says), traveling to compete, and schoolwork. JTCC friends suggested Laurel Springs for the adaptability of the program, and the Arlington native decided to give it a shot.

While some may wonder if switching to an asynchronous online school program poses social challenges for tweens, Stefan says social life doesn’t have to suffer because your learning environment is different. It’s what you make of it, he says.

“It’s definitely harder to make friends, but you just have to be social,” he says. That means prioritizing interactions both in the school network and in whatever endeavors are replacing the hours that used to be filled with sitting in a classroom.

Stefan explains that he’s made friends both at Laurel Springs and in the JTCC by prioritizing those interactions, so he doesn’t feel he’s made any sacrifices in the teenage experience by choosing an online learning experience.

“You still get to do practically everything that you’re supposedly missing out on,” he says.

Battles fought and lessons learned

A couple of years ago in Panama, Stefan was locked in a grueling three-and-a-half-hour match against a good friend and opponent. Exhausted by the battle and the humidity, Stefan walked off the court with a hard-fought loss. It was not his first nor his last, but the senior continues to rise before the sun, grind out 10-12 hour days, and never lets his focus waver from the target. One of the greatest lessons he’s learned is that sometimes, even when one-hundred percent effort is given, the match is not yours to win.

“I was mad that I lost, but I realized I have so many more years ahead of me to keep getting better,” Stefan says. “You forget about the loss, focus on what you need to improve on, and get back out there the next day.”

Tennis almost wasn’t Stefan’s future. He played soccer too and was equally invested in both sports until 11 years old when he had to choose his focus. Since then, tennis has provided learning opportunities of all types: discipline, time management, and work ethic—to name a few—but also sacrifice.

The sport opened doors for him at UVA, but that’s not all. Tennis has been Stefan’s passport to all kinds of adventures around the world. He’s been to Costa Rica, Columbia, Ecuador, Panama, Kenya, and all over America to play and train.

Tennis, Stefan says, is much harder than other sports he has played. It’s solitary in nature, requiring mental toughness as well as physical. It’s a challenge like no other he’s experienced, and he’s eager to take it on at every opportunity.

“You’re out there by yourself. You can’t rely on teammates to help you out,” Stefan says. “In soccer, basketball, or football, even if you’re playing badly, the team could still win, or you have everyone to pump you up. In tennis, you have to find a way to mentally reset yourself, bring up your own energy.”

The next match: What lies ahead

 

Excelling both in school and sport is easy when competitiveness flows in your veins.

“Growing up, I was always trying to compete with [my mom],” Stefan laughs. “I still do, actually. She’s laughing at the other end of the room right now. Yeah, I’m a very competitive person, and I think that really plays a huge role in why I do what I do.”

Stefan looks forward to wearing the Cavalier navy blue and orange on the courts next year—he’s worked for this moment for a long time, he says—and hopes to go pro after college. But first, he gives thanks to the people who were monumental in supporting his progress, notably his longtime JTCC coaches Asaf Yamin and Vesa Ponkka, who “played a huge part in getting me to where I am today.”