Ridgecroft tennis standout earns scholarships

Published 8:51 am Tuesday, December 19, 2023

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AHOSKIE – A member of Ridgecroft School’s state championship tennis team has earned the opportunity to continue her athletic career and education.

Belle Turner has accepted athletic and academic scholarships from Chowan University. There she plans to major in biology while competing with the university’s women’s tennis team.

Turner, a Ridgecroft senior who will graduate in May 2024, has been a fixture on the school’s tennis program since the sixth grade. She has been the team’s #1 seeded player since the ninth grade and earned All-State honors for five consecutive years. It was that type of effort that had a huge impact in Ridgecroft’s successful run this season to the 2023 North Carolina Independent Schools Athletic Association’s team tennis title.

In the eighth grade, Turner was the team’s #2 seed.

“Matty Grace (Gilliam) was our #1 seed that year. She was really good and I learned a lot from her,” Turner recalled, adding that Gilliam is now a member of the tennis team at Randolph Macon University. “I was on the jayvee team in the sixth grade, and then moved up to the varsity team in the seventh grade,” she said.

Throughout Turner’s tennis career at Ridgecroft she has been under the watchful eye of veteran coach Elton Winslow.

“Coach Winslow has such a positive attitude that he shares with us,” Turner noted. “He has pushed us to improve and that really paid off this year with us winning the state championship.”

“Belle is one of the hardest working players I’ve ever coached in my time at Ridgecroft,” noted Winslow. “She practiced hard and played hard, always full of grit and determination.”

Winslow said he gave each a personalized note just prior to this year’s state championship match.

“In the one I wrote to Belle, I told her that she was the rock on which we built our tennis program,” said the coach.

“Belle isn’t what I call a noisy leader, she rather leads by example and makes everyone around her better,” Winslow added. “She is such an outstanding young lady and I’m so proud that she now has the opportunity to play at the next level.”

Turner also competes on the school’s soccer team.

“I enjoy soccer, but tennis is my favorite sport,” she said.

Prior to her sixth grade year, Turner admitted that she had never picked up a tennis racket.

“I just decided to try it,” Turner recalled, adding that she also competed in a few USTA (United States Tennis Association) sanctioned tournaments.

In addition to Winslow’s coaching, Turner said she does take private tennis lessons.

“Getting better in tennis takes a lot of repetition and working on techniques,” she shared. “I’ve worked hard to improve the mental aspect of my game. I don’t let people get under my skin. Sometimes it’s the little things that can throw off your game. You just work to focus on what you need to do.

“I also work on being consistent, which helps to cut down on errors. I feel my consistency has really improved,” Turner added.

All of that work has now reaped reward with a scholarship from Chowan.

“That excites me a lot,” Turner said when asked about the opportunity to complete at the collegiate level. “I’ve always wanted to play at Chowan.”

As far as life after Chowan, Turner said she plans to parlay her education into a successful career.

“The good thing about majoring in biology is that there are so many fields you can choose to work in,” she said. “I can go into cancer research, but there are many other options as well. I’ve got four years to figure that out.”

In the meantime, she has four years to add to her outstanding tennis resume.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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