Try googling the phrase “famous tennis players from Shasta County.” There won’t be any results.
But 17-year-old Foothill senior Isabelle Bahr is hoping to change all of that when she competes at the Ascension Project Women’s Pro Tournament this week in Redding.
Her fiery passion for tennis began at 6 years old when her parents took her to Sunoaks Tennis and Fitness, where she competes this week. Something sparked in her that began her love affair with the sport.
“The first summer I can’t remember what day but all I remember was coming home and telling my parents ‘I think I really love tennis, and I want to do it for the rest of my life’,” Bahr said. “I’ve always loved the sport a crazy amount and from the first grade I’ve wanted to go to the next level.”
Her love affair has evolved into a controlled rage when she enters the court. The smiling, kind and gentle face of Bahr becomes one of complete concentration. Her forehead crinkles, her bright teeth clench. Her eyes become fixated on the bright green ball as her spine bends and then explodes forward with the ball.
Bahr’s transformation from docile to hostile led her coach Jeremiah Walsh to nickname her “The Koala.”
“I look like I’m a nice person, I look cute but when I get onto the court I’m going to fight and I’m going to be aggressive,” Bahr said. “I’m going to go for everything and I’m going to be intense. Having both sides fits my personality.”
Nothing has come easy for Bahr. Every weekend she is having to travel two to three hours down to Oakland, San Francisco, Sacramento or one of the those cities’ outlying suburbs to seek strong competition.
Despite having won or finished top five in her last nine tournaments, she hasn’t been offered any scholarships.
“Just not a lot of people know about me,” Bahr said. “A lot of tennis is international and so coaches are always looking in other places.”
That could all change if Bahr gets through the qualifying round and into Tuesday’s main draw. She has the ability, but coach Austin Kische who works alongside Walsh says the key to her success will be her mental strength.
“I’m hoping she goes out there and keeps her head together,” Kische said. “She doesn’t let the size of the moment get to her and just go out there and play hard.”
Bahr making it past the qualifying round would be special within itself, given the pressure of playing in front of her friends, family and nearby residents who will be curious to see how the local girl entered in the tournament fares against the best players in the world.
From there, she would be competing against pros players, who are ranked as high as top 200 in the world, and for a prize of $25,000 for the winner. Her coaches have admitted the odds of Bahr winning the tournament are slim.
As Walsh has noted though, “there’s always a chance.”
“We just want to see her compete hard and just hang in there,” Walsh said. “For her to play well, she’s going to treat it like it’s just another day. That it’s not her hometown with people talking about it and (her feeling) she needs to perform for them. She’s going to have to just compete with herself and not see it as someone who has a higher rank. Just see it as another person who is hitting a ball towards her.”
The stakes are higher, but her preparation has remained the same. She emails coaches every day after practice to show what she’s learned. She uses TED Talks and digital tools to help her gain a stronger mental advantage.
Bahr’s dedication to getting better in the sport makes her a threat on any given day, no matter the odds.
Nike brought together 11 of the best professional female tennis players for a “Queens of the Future” event celebrating the growth of women in sport.
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Ethan Hanson started working for the Redding Record Searchlight after four years with Los Angeles Daily News as a freelancer. Coverage includes working the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament in South Bend, Ind and writing about the St. Louis Rams move to Los Angeles with the Ventura County Star. Began his career as play by play broadcaster for LA Pierce College from 2011-2017.