In a tennis-rich state such as ours, choosing the year’s best can be challenging. Yet each December, the South Carolina office of the U.S. Tennis Association, along with its profusion of volunteers, attempts to recognize those whose games improved the most or whose attitudes inspired youths.
This year, USTA South Carolina, which has its office in the Harbison area, stayed close to home for five of its annual awards.
Sam Calais has been named the Kimberly Hampton Most Improved Junior Girl of the Year.
Sam, who is a sophomore at Dutch Fork High, is the No. 9-ranked singles player in the state in the girls 16-and-under division. In January, she was ranked No. 25 in the same division.
Hampton was named USTA South Carolina Most Improved Junior Girl in 1992. She grew up in Easley and played collegiate tennis at Presbyterian College.
She also served her country. Hampton was a captain who served as an Army helicopter pilot. In January 2004, the helicopter she was flying in Iraq was shot down and she was killed. She was 27.
Susan Turner has been named the Helen Jeter League Volunteer of the Year.
Turner has coordinated USTA leagues in Columbia for the past 10 years, said Mary Goins, director of leagues for USTA South Carolina. Turner also helps organize a USTA South Carolina state league championship.
“She will immediately undertake any project that needs to be done in her league and around the state,” Goins said.
The late Helen Jeter was a longtime USTA South Carolina volunteer in Greer. She also helped grow tennis throughout the country by serving on regional and national USTA committees.
Carlos Lozano has been named the John Newcomb Pro of the Year.
Lozano has been the director of tennis at the Topspin Racquet and Swim Club in Lexington since 2005. He was a teaching pro at the club for two years prior. Before that, Lozano was an All-American tennis player at Brigham Young.
As Topspin’s director of tennis, Lozano excels with junior tennis players and adults, said Charly Rasheed, the director of tennis at Wild Dunes on Isle of Palms. Rasheed previously worked with Lozano at Topspin. “He has a magnetic quality that attracts juniors and adults of all levels to him,” Rasheed said.
John Newcomb was a star tennis player at Winthrop and later became director of tennis at the Longcreek Plantation Club in Blythewood. In 1996, Newcomb was shot and killed in downtown Columbia.
Gentle Dentistry of Lexington has been named the Company of the Year.
The dentistry, operated by Dr. Rick Jackson, has supported USTA Jr. Team Tennis and the Lexington Area Tennis Association’s Sunburn Open tournament for more than 10 years, said Steve Hunter, president of the Lexington Area Tennis Association.
The Jackson family supports tennis because the family has long enjoyed the sport, said Eric Jackson, the dentistry’s office manager. Rick Jackson played tennis in high school, and all of the five Jackson children have played tennis.
Eric Jackson also coaches the varsity girls and boys tennis teams at Lexington High.
“The people who participate in tennis are really great people, and we feel blessed to support tennis in this community,” Eric Jackson said.