At the age of 14, Monet Stuckey-Willis lived alone in Florida for more than half a year.
A home-schooled teenager, Stuckey-Willis initially resented her family’s decision to send her to the Justine Henin Tennis Academy in Orlando, Florida.
“When I first got there I was miserable because I wouldn’t be able to see my family that often,” Stuckey-Willis said. “I got used to it, because I was going to be there for quite a long time.”
Stuckey-Willis’ family had an important influence on her pursuit of a tennis career. She would go the Legacy Center in East Falls, formally known as the Arthur Ashe Youth Tennis and Education Center, to play with her family.
At first, she was not fond of the game.
“My dad got me into tennis when I was 6,” Stuckey-Willis said. “He took me to practice at the Arthur Ashe Center and I didn’t really like it. After a while, I began to like it.”
Stuckey-Willis, like most elite high school athletes, chose to travel far distances in order to compete at the highest level.
By competing in these tournaments worldwide, the athletes receive interest from college coaches. Stuckey-Willis, who said she was homeschooled until she enrolled at Temple, wanted to jump to the professional level when she turned 18, but she soon realized the importance of collegiate tennis.
“All of my high school years I traveled to Florida, Turkey and Belgium to play tournaments,” Stuckey-Willis said. “Because I was homeschooled, I was able to play a lot more tennis than I would have in high school. I had more time to travel and to practice. If I had gone to high school, I wouldn’t have had that much time to travel and practice. I believe being homeschooled helped me develop my tennis skills.”
Stuckey-Willis has been a major contributor for the Owls, tallying a 15-7 record in singles matches and a 11-3 record in doubles matches on the season. She is tied for the team lead alongside freshman Yana Khon with 14 singles wins on the season.
Confident in her approach to tennis, Stuckey-Willis plays aggressively. Senior Rebecca Breland has seen Stuckey-Willis fight for each point, no matter how hard it may seem.
“Monet is a really good tennis player,” Breland said. “She brings a lot of confidence and power. It is nice to see someone who goes for every shot. She works her hardest to get to every ball. She is a role model for the team as a freshman because of the effort she gives. As a team, we can learn from that. Monet gets the job done and we can always count on her.”
Breland took Stuckey-Willis under her wing from the moment she saw her arrive on Main Campus. They have developed a strong bond and often joke with each other on bus rides to and from practice in order to lighten the team mood.
Breland said that during her time at Temple, she has seen many young players go through the program and put themselves at risk during matches. They push through injury to try to show toughness and grit to the coaches, but end up putting their tennis career in danger by not looking out for themselves.
“Monet has a strong personality,” Breland said. “She is a go-getter. … She knows when to stop if she is injured and most underclassmen don’t do that. Monet takes care of herself first and that is most important.”
Stuckey-Willis has a 12-5 doubles record, leading the team in wins. Coach Steve Mauro said Stuckey-Willis has developed into a strong player during her freshman year and has been able to adapt to her teammates.
“Monet has a really strong work ethic,” Mauro said. “ Monet doesn’t fear anyone and she has a lot of confidence on the court. I want our team to all have the confidence that [Stuckey-Willis] has.”
Dalton Balthaser can be reched at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @DaltonBalthaser.