The way Emma Deimling sees it, she has the best of both worlds.
The 14-year-old freshman is playing first singles for the Medina tennis team while continuing to be home-schooled by parents Joya Matheus and Keith Deimling, who have told their only child she can enroll in school if she ever has the desire.
“At first, I thought it was going to be very difficult,” said Deimling, who Wednesday fell to 5-3 on the season with a 6-4, 6-0 loss to Mayfield’s Jamie Vizelman, a two-time Division I state doubles qualifier who improved to 9-1 on the year. “I didn’t know if the girls would accept me, but they’re very nice. They’ve welcomed me.
“It’s been great. I get to be part of a team and get the social aspect of high school without going.”
Until just before preseason practice started, Deimling didn’t think she would be playing high school tennis.
Prior to a new provision in the recently passed state budget, Ohio had always let local school boards decide whether to open access to home-schooled students. If sports participation was allowed, home-schooled students had to partially enroll in the district by taking at least one class (some districts required more), which Deimling said she would not have done.
“I wouldn’t have played tennis,” she said. “But I got a call the night before practice started telling me they had changed the rule, so I had to make a quick decision.”
Though Deimling is of the opinion she would have attained a higher United States Tennis Association ranking if she had continued to enter tournaments, she opted to join the Bees, in part to be part of a team and in part because it afforded her the opportunity to play a lot of matches as she worked her way back from an April hamstring injury that sidelined her until mid-June.
“I hadn’t played matches (because of the injury) and there are a lot of matches in high school,” she said. “There’s a lot of great players, so I decided to do it. I was so nervous before the first practice. I didn’t know what would happen, but it went very well.”
“She’s fit in really well,” ninth-year Bees coach Pete Hoffmann said. “It’s hard for a freshman to be a varsity player in general. It was even harder for her because she was coming in with kids she wasn’t in eighth grade with. You’ve got to give credit to her for being open and you’ve got to give credit to our kids for welcoming her.”
Though Deimling’s winning percentage is only .625 at this point, she’s among the top three prep players in Medina County along with Cloverleaf freshman Emily Dunbar, the clear-cut No. 1, and Highland junior Allie Welch.
The 5-foot-4, 115-pounder has drawn comparisons to four-time Gazette MVP Ali Garrity, who played first singles for the Bees for four years and is now a freshman on scholarship at D-I Siena College.
“She’s very similar to Ali as a freshman,” Hoffmann said. “They have similar types of games. Ali wanted to get to net a little more, but that’s not a weakness for Emma. She just doesn’t mind staying back and working the point.
“She’s very well-rounded. You can see her thinking about what she’s doing in the point and making adjustments. She’s one of the best I’ve had at not only listening, but making suggestions during crossovers and then implementing the adjustments we talk about.”
Deimling, ranked among the top 50 girls in the USTA Midwest Region’s 14-and-under division prior to her hamstring injury, devotes about three hours a day to tennis and also works with a personal trainer.
She is currently coached by Alan Walker out of Springside Racquet & Fitness Club and was a member of the 14-and-under Paramount Tennis Club team that qualified for nationals in Surprise, Ariz., two years ago. Just 12 at the time, Deimling played first singles for the team.
“I actually hated tennis at first,” said Deimling, who started playing when she was 5. “My parents made me do it because they wanted me to play with them.
“My first match, I lost 0 and 0 and the first thing I asked was, ‘When’s the next match?’ I absolutely loved it and I couldn’t wait to get back out there and compete again.”
One of three freshmen in Medina’s every-day lineup — Becca Liebler and Emily Speckman are the others — Deimling dreams of playing on the pro circuit, but she is also serious about her studies. She generally does schoolwork weekdays from 8 a.m. until 1 p.m., and then for a few more hours in the evening. Deimling has also studied ballet since she was 4 and is a classical pianist after starting lessons in that at the age of 6.
Right now, though, tennis is her primary focus outside of academics.
“It’s exciting,” Deimling said. “There’s a lot of pressure on you to win, and that makes it even better for me because it makes it more competitive. The more competitive it is, the happier I am. That’s why I’m playing high school tennis.”
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.