NEW BRITAIN – Not too many players will finish out their tennis careers like Julitta Oliver has with New Britain girls tennis this season.
The Hurricanes’ number one player has only lost twice, her second coming in Friday’s loss to Rocky Hill, while stringing together 13 straight wins at one point this year.
“This season I tried to give it my all because it was my last season,” Oliver said. “Just coming in with a mentality of ‘I can do this, I can dominate,’ I shifted my play because before I would let people beat me a lot when I could have won. This season, I just wanted more from myself, so I made it happen, I did what I wanted.”
Improving her compete level was a noticeable change from years past, according to New Britain coach Joe Canzanella.
“[Julitta] came to us with a real good knowledge of the game,” Canzanella said. “She grew as a competitor, and that’s where a lot of the girls really don’t know how to compete. She grew into a competitor.”
After losing her first match of the year against Tolland, Oliver dominated the competition with her smart play and ability to read the court.
“I feel like I see the court very well,” Oliver said. “I see opportunities that are presented and I take advantage of them when I can. I love slice shots and I love to catch my opponents off guard, I guess.”
“Her style can go from aggressive to passive,” Canzanella said. “When I say passive, she’ll play the ball waiting for the other girl to make a mistake. She can be very aggressive, depending on what she’s playing against. She’ll dictate the pace, but she’ll also play with the other girl and play to their weaknesses.”
The senior has been focusing on the mental aspect of the sport, as much as, if not more than the physical element this year, to play in with her improved competitive spirit.
“I think season’s before, I definitely had a lot of physical potential, but mentality is where I fell short,” Oliver said. “It’s been a struggle throughout my high school career, but I feel as my record shows, I really improved that so I’m proud of myself.”
Losing her junior season to the pandemic didn’t slow her down all that much, as Oliver strived for a consistent output after not playing in more than a year.
“Specifically, I just tried to work on my consistency and game play, but I didn’t get that much game play because of everything that went on,” Oliver said. “I definitely tried to up it, especially my mentality, that was the biggest thing where I fell short before.”
“She lost the first match at Tolland,” Canzanella said. “She may not have been ready for the season then. It was a handicap year starting, but she grew.”
Wins versus Windsor, East Catholic and Newington highlighted Oliver’s final season with the Hurricanes, who still doesn’t know if her high school career is continuing on into the postseason.
“Hopefully she gets a chance to play at the state tournament as an individual player because she deserves to be there. She is certainly an all-division player, in my mind,” Canzanella said.
Oliver will further her playing career into college when she suits up for Albertus Magnus College, as part of the Falcons women’s tennis team in 2022.
“I’m going to go crazy,” Oliver said when asked how she’s going to prepare. “I’m so excited for college. I just want to be the best person I can for that team and I’m going to physically try my best to do that, and mentally.”
It’ll take some time for New Britain to find another talent like Oliver, but Canzanella is confident more will follow soon enough.
“I’m looking forward to more [Julitta’s] coming down the pike,” Canzanella said. “The youth program here in New Britain is developing some players and we’re looking forward to reaping the benefits of that, that’s for sure.”
Ryan Ames can be reached at 860-801-5094 or on Twitter @_RyanAmes.