Arnie Moreno knew his tennis program was getting an infusion of talent last year. He had heard of Sasha Gaeth and had even watched her play a few times.
But the Shorewood High School tennis coach hadn’t fully comprehended Gaeth’s talent or identified the dominant trait that makes her special.
“I’ve had other freshmen who have made the team before,” Moreno said. “When she finally arrived and got here, it was like anticipation, and we knew it was coming. My reaction was a big smile on my face.”
Only a few weeks into Gaeth’s first season, Moreno began to understand Gaeth’s unique quality.
The Shorewood freshman was steeped in talent thanks to a wealth of experience playing USTA tennis year-round, but Gaeth had to earn the T-Birds’ No. 1 singles spot by dispatching a pair of returning seniors.
Most freshmen would be apprehensive and full of nerves, but not Gaeth.
“Both of them knew how good Sasha was,” Moreno said. “I think they were more nervous about playing her than her playing them. She won their respect.”
That was the first time Moreno witnessed Gaeth’s immense poise, mental toughness and maturity. She displayed it during her first varsity match, throughout her freshman regular season and in a postseason run that claimed a league title, district title and a fourth-place finish at the Class 3A state tournament.
Gaeth finished last spring with a 25-1 record, losing only two sets all year, which occurred during a state quarterfinal defeat to the eventual second-place finisher.
Never was a moment too big for Gaeth, and as a freshman she’d already grasped the importance of keeping a level head throughout a game that takes extreme mental toughness to master.
“In tennis you can’t dwell on something you did wrong or it will affect your play in the future,” explained Gaeth, who started playing tennis on a whim at 8 years old. “You need to think of what you did wrong and fix it immediately and move on.”
Gaeth learned that lesson during a USTA tournament in January of 2016. She described a match in which she had won the first set 6-2 and was leading the second 5-2 before letting a few mistakes build upon each other, and before she could stop the downward spiral, she let the match slip away.
Now Gaeth takes measures to ensure her mental state is in the right place by collecting herself using deep breathes or self-talk. It’s a technique Moreno has seen Gaeth implement on several occasions.
Not only has Gaeth figured out how to keep mentally focused, she also uses her mental game to beat opponents by analyzing how to best attack in a manner that accentuates her own strengths.
“She plays a very aggressive style that isn’t just your typical baseline play,” Moreno said. “You can tell when a player has a ton of match experience, and I think that is what separates her and other top players in the state. On her strokes, she has a high degree of skill, but it’s what she does with it mentally. That is when her maturity shows up. She has a game plan. She knows what she does best, and she attacks the ball. She has an overall game that gives her an edge.”
Gaeth’s goal is to play NCAA Division 1 tennis. She is ranked as a three-star prospect on tennisrecruiting.net, and Moreno said she is ranked among USTA’s top 25 players in the state for her age bracket.
Moreno is just pleased he has this spring and two more seasons to work with one of the state’s premier players.
“I think I could for sure place higher than fourth (in state),” Gaeth said. “That is my main personal goal, and we’ll see how my draw plays out.”