By Stacey Simmons, Junior Challenge Ladder Vice President
The Junior Challenge Ladder (JCL) is one of many fun tennis experiences offered by ALTA. Each year, we recognize our graduating seniors who are moving on and hoping to make a difference in the world. We asked this year’s JCL seniors to share their memories and stories of what impact the JCL had on their lives, both on and off the court.
Maanas Junghare was 13 when he picked up a racquet. Living in Johns Creek, he became an ALTA junior member and played for Wellington’s junior ALTA team and later for Lexington Woods. He currently trains at the Darko-Byrd Tennis Academy at the Standard Club. Junghare gives credit to his parents as an important, driving force behind his tennis game. He says he has also been influenced by Coach Charles Byrd, Pete Bauer, Viv Chhetri, and Attila Azucki, under whom he’s been lucky enough to have the opportunity to train.
“They helped me develop a love for the game,” says Junghare. Some of his tennis idols include David Ferrer, David Nalbandian, and Rafael Nadal, whom he says influenced him to be more persevering and hard-working. His advice for younger players is to practice with 110-percent effort because that will translate into how they play in matches. “Make sure to have fun while playing. If you don’t feel the fun and love for the game, take a short break because it’s necessary to enjoy the sport if you want to excel in tennis.”
He adds that tennis has allowed him to make friends from the countless tournaments he has played. “It has also taught me discipline, perseverance, and the importance of hard work.” He says his favorite memory was playing on the ladder for the first time this past year and placing first. “I met a ton of new people and reconnected with some old friends,” he said. Junghare is headed to the University of Georgia on the pre-medicine track and plans to pursue a bachelor’s degree in either Microbiology or Biochemistry.
Carolina Malcolm started playing tennis when she was 11 years old and played junior ALTA out of While Columns Country Club and played in the JCL in 2021 and 2022. “I have taken private lessons with Kim Allen since I picked up a racquet, and she has taught me the true game of tennis; the inner/mental side of how to win,” says Malcolm. She says she is also grateful for her guidance, coaching, and friendship over the past eight years.
Malcolm also trains with Taylor Johnson in the Alpharetta-Milton area and has played varsity tennis for Milton High School. “I want to also thank Coach Taylor for making the game such an enjoyable one, and for my younger sister, Stephanie, for pushing me to become a better person and player on and off the court. I would not play the level of tennis I do today if it wasn’t for her.” Malcolm also credits her father for his support and encouragement in allowing her to play tennis all the way up to the varsity level. She says tennis has given her a reason to be outside, while providing an outlet in an often-stressful high school year, as well as helped her form friendships through her academy and varsity team. “But most importantly, it has allowed me the chance to work at a challenging and competitive sport, shaping my character on and off the court.”
Her best memory was working extremely hard to climb the ladder in 2021, so she could challenge her sister who was always ahead of her. “When I finally did challenge her, we had the fiercest match of our lives. My mom even walked home because she found it too stressful to watch,” she recalls. Malcolm won in a tiebreaker and said it was quite the accomplishment. “Still, Stephanie finished a couple rankings ahead of me during the 2022 season.” She will be attending the University of Georgia in the fall to study piano performance and has some good advice for rising tennis stars. “There will always be seasons of winning and losing. Don’t let [the losses] discourage you, because without failure, there is no growth.”
Matteo Maddaleni has played on the Junior Challenge Ladder for eight seasons, as he first picked up a racquet at age eight and first played at the Riverside Club where his mom worked. He also played junior ALTA for five seasons and has a City Champion title from his 10U team in 2014. Maddaleni trained at Blackburn Tennis Center and worked with the UTA team. “My mom and dad did a lot of driving over the years to practices and tournaments, so that helped me be able to play tennis,” says Maddaleni. He adds that tennis is good exercise and all the years of training have helped him stay in good shape. “I also realize how much consistency in whatever you do helps you perform better in anything you do.”
He says those off the court who had great influence on him are his first coach, Noel Wadawu, ATP former number-one player Novak Djokovic, and Arnold Schwarzenegger because they all promote and practice dedication. “I would tell a younger player to have fun in the process,” he says. “Tennis is both a mental and physical game. The biggest challenge for me was managing the nerves so I would suggest finding a way to not get nervous before matches and just have fun.”
Speaking of fun, Maddaleni says his best memory of the JCL was going to the Atlanta Open and having a clinic with other JCL players and the tennis pros. “It was pretty cool to be on the practice courts and hit with a professional tennis player,” he said. Maddaleni is currently attending Georgia College and State University’s summer program and will begin full-time in the fall. He plans to study business and entrepreneurship and is excited to participate in Greek life while in college. “I am currently focusing on weight training and body building and hope to play club tennis in college.”
At the age of seven, Samantha Ruder decided to start playing tennis and began at East Roswell Park, before working on her game out of her neighborhood with tennis pros at Horseshoe Bend Country Club. She has been on the Junior Challenge Ladder all four years while in high school. Ruder says her mom and coaches have had the biggest influence on her tennis ability. “My mom introduced me to the game of tennis after having spent several years going with her to her matches. It has proven to be one of the best additions to my life,” says Ruder.
After watching her mom play tennis for all those years and never give up, she says it inspired her to do the same in all facets of her life. “She taught me to treat every point as if it was match point against me. That sort of resolve crosses over into everyday life,” Ruder says. She also credits her coaches throughout the years who have pushed her to be the best player she can be and never gave up on her. “Tennis has provided me with so much. Not only is it an amazing outlet to work through and let go of the stress of daily life, but it also gave me a second family in the form of team tennis (ALTA and high school tennis). I have made some of my closest friends while on the court.”
Ruder believes that tennis can be a daunting sport, especially when you play singles. “It’s just you out there alone on the court and it can be overwhelming. I would tell younger players to never give up, even when you feel all hope is lost in a match. All it takes is one point to turn the tide and get back into the match,” she says. Ruder is headed to the University of Tennessee this fall and plans to study animal sciences to ultimately become a veterinarian.
Caroline Scott first picked up a racquet when she was five and later played in ALTA’s Junior Leagues at Dunwoody Country Club. She worked hard on her game at her school, Wesleyan, and trained at Perimeter College at Georgia State University. She says David Stolle and Johnathon Sykes worked with her during her four years of high school tennis. “They have shaped me into not only a better player but a better person. They helped me improve my skills and my mental game throughout high school,” says Scott. She adds that tennis has given her some of her best friends and favorite teammates. “I have learned how to be a leader through being captain of my team.” Scott tells others above anything else, the key to enjoying the tennis experience is to have fun while you are playing. “Remember that being a good person that your opponent respects is more important than any win,” she says. Scott will attend the University of Georgia and is hoping to play club or intramural tennis this fall.
When he was only four years old, Kellen Simmons had a racquet in his hand and later played on several ALTA teams out of Washington Park and Sweetwater Tennis Center, before adding the JCL to his tennis career during his four years of high school. He still works on his game at South Fulton Tennis Center. Simmons says his family and coaches have supported him and pushed him to be his best on and off the court. He adds, “My coaches have also kept me disciplined and put a lot of time into helping me develop my game.”
Simmons believes that competing and practicing has helped him stay in good shape and has resulted in good friends whom he met through tennis. One of his favorite highlights of being on the JCL was being a part of a professional clinic at the Atlanta Open this year. “The clinic was amazing. It was extremely fun getting to talk to professional players and learn from them,” he said. Speaking of learning, Simmons would tell young players to work on their weaknesses until they become their strengths. “There is always something you can improve in your game,” Simmons says. He plans to take a gap year following high school but hopes to play collegiate tennis in the future.
Good luck to all these impressive JCL seniors!