When reflecting back upon the past four years of Ellyn Tomko's high school tennis career, Jim Thorpe head tennis Coach Norb Lienhard had plenty of compliments to pay his senior number one singles player.
All of the typical lauds were there, but so was some very special praise.
Lienhard said Tomko brought a little more to the table for the Lady Olympians' tennis team over the course of the past four years. The progression of her talents and development of her skills over her years at Jim Thorpe showed plenty of character, drive, ambition and a desire to improve upon her game, in order to better the program.
Upon her arrival at the tennis courts her freshman year, things weren't as defined for Tomko.
"As a freshman, she really didn't know a whole lot about the game," Lienhard laughed. "I don't think she even knew if she really wanted to play. But, every year after that, you could tell that she became more and more into the sport and with that interest level increase, she also showed that she wanted to improve.
"Every year, she moved up in terms of her position on the team and she played to her ability every year."
In her initial season with the Olympians, Tomko started her first match as part of a number three doubles team. She stayed there her freshman season and in her sophomore year, played number one doubles, gaining some valuable experience. The transition into singles followed and, like always, was tough for the student-athlete initially. However, her drive and constant effort to improve aided in her learning and becoming an independent player on the court. She played the number one singles slot in both her junior and senior seasons, continuing to improve and win matches.
This past season was the best of Tomko's high school career.
It also earned her THE TIMES NEWS Tennis Player of the Year award.
"It's really good to feel as though all the hard work has paid off," Tomko said. "With this being my senior year, I felt I wanted to do it right this season and I'm happy with it."
Although she wasn't able to produce a winning overall record on the court, Tomko had the astute responsibility of playing against each team's best player, each match. That feat requires a certain level of play from the athlete and Tomko did a great job representing her school, her team and herself with a strong effort each day.
Tomko also had the best showing on any of the seven area girls who participated in the District 11 singles tournaments.
"Ellyn liked to have fun, that's for sure," Coach Lienhard mentioned. "However, she still knew when it was time to be serious and get down to business on the court."
As a senior, there would be more of a responsibility to the rest of the team, as well. Tomko managed to be the co-captain of the team in both her junior and senior seasons. Her leadership was evident to onlookers, as she motivated the other girls in matches and practices throughout those two seasons.
"The other girls definitely looked up to her," Lienhard said. "They knew that she was playing against the hardest player every match. But Ellyn would push the other girls, as well and tell them that when things weren't right, to try and fix them."
Another attribute that she brought to the team was her demeanor on-court and willingness to face adversity head-on.
"She would always listen to any suggestions or advice a coach would give her," Lienhard remembers. "That's nice, too, to see a player trying different things out there, throughout the course of a match. She would see something wasn't working and instead of just trying to stay with that game plan, she would try different things."
As for who Tomko credits with transforming her into the player she is today, she was quick to recognize a couple of people.
"I would work in the summers with George Wolbers at Split Rock and he would put me through some grueling workout sessions," Tomko admits. "The repetition of strokes and constant drilling not only made me a better volleyer, but a better all-around player."
She also credits Lienhard for being a great coach.
"He made me who I was, tennis-wise," Tomko said. "He would push me to my breaking point, which was good, because I needed that. Together, the two of them combined to make me a better player."
Looking back on her career and the way it ended up, it sounds like Tomko would change nothing.
"I would always go out there and play to the best of my ability," she mentioned. "I love everything about the sport. Everything about it is great."