SOUTH BEND – Molly Bellia’s love for tennis is truly genuine.
However, that love can only be matched by her genuine love of being a part of Saint Joseph’s girls’ tennis program.
Bellia, the second star of the Indians, is really about her team in a sport that is primarily based on individual talent.
Bellia, a superb southpaw, burst onto the preparation scene in a huge way in 2021. She won 25-0 and won the state championship for No. 1 singles players. She also helped the Indians go 18-2 and finish as team number two. Both St. Joe’s loss was to No. 1 Carmel, including 4-1 in the state title fight.
Longtime Saint Joseph coach Bill Mountford says Bellia, the epitome of a student-athlete, is the real commodity in every sense of the word.
“The thing about Molly is that what you see with her is what you get,” Mountford said. “Tennis is a very individual sport, and it’s unusual to have a player with Molly’s abilities to play high school tennis these days.”
“Having her buy-in to the team the way she does makes it so much better. She’s really a setback when it comes to tennis. She’s genuinely happy to see others do well and so supportive of her teammates. On top of that, she’s a good student, too.
“The thing is, she has such an incredible foundation with her parents (Anthony and Patricia). And also her sister Kate.”
How much does Bellia mean to her team and its coach?
Mountford, who has coached the girls’ program at Saint Joseph since 2009, has appointed Bellia as team captain. This is the first time he has ever bestowed that honor on another student.
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“She’s a great player, a great kid and a natural leader,” Mountford said.
Bellia, who is one of four players returning from St. Joe’s state finals, is all there’s when it comes to her team.
“I love everything about being a part of this team,” Bellia said after a recent training session in cold and windy conditions at Leeper Park. “I love my team and I love Saint Joseph. Being a part of this team is really important to me.”
Bellia believes the Indians can be a force again this spring despite the loss of her sister Kate and the No. 2 double team of Alayna Campbell and Tea Lazareto from last year’s star team, which was ranked No. 1 in a division of season. Kate was all-state at No. 2 singles in 2021, served as team captain and won the award for mental attitude at the state finals. She now plays tennis in Notre Dame, where Bellia’s parents Anthony and Patricia are both law professors. Mother Patricia played tennis at Harvard.
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“It’s definitely different and I miss having Kate on the team,” Bellia said. “She was a great leader for us last season. But we still have great team dynamics. We have a lot of players who are talented and have worked hard. I have great confidence in my teammates. This team has great potential, season, and I just want us to get as far as we can. “
Bellia beat Park Tudor junior Lauren Long 6-4, 6-3 in the state title fight last June. She topped Lafayette Harrison freshman Emma Gu 6-1, 4-6, 7-5 in the semifinals earlier in the day, only her third game in three sets this season.
Mountford, who guided St. Joe for a state title in 2010 and a second place finish in 2016, has seen improvements in the preseason from his dedicated standout, who works on his game seven days a week most of the time.
“Molly has spent a lot of time and many miles playing since last June, when she won the state,” Mountford noted. “There’s no better way to get better as a player than to play in tournaments, and she’s done it all over.
“She’s hitting the ball bigger this year. She’s also worked hard to improve her serve, and you can see that. She’s also doing a better job of finishing points on the net, and that’s really important for her progress as a player. What you need to remember is that she’s still developing as a player. “
Bellia, who is 16, says her approach this season will not change.
“I want the same mindset this season as last year,” Bellia said. “I’m not going to put pressure on myself. We have a great team and it’s my top priority to contribute as much as I can to our team.
“I know anything can happen. I just want out every game and give my best, maintain my same mental focus and a positive attitude all the time. I’m just excited about our season.”
“I’m just trying to go into each workout with something specific to work on. The biggest thing I’ve been trying to work on is applying technique to strategy in a match. I’ve also worked hard on my serve to get it to another level. I still have a lot of room to improve. “
Mountford know there are no guarantees as Bellia look set to chase another state title this season.
“Molly is without a doubt one of the best high school players in the state,” remarked Mountford, who himself played tennis for the US Naval Academy. “But she’s not defending anything. It’s a new season now and we can not worry about last year.
“There are some great players left from last season and also some other players who did not play high school tennis last year in Indiana who are also playing this year.
“We just have to lay our heads down and go to work. When it’s time, let’s line them up and play and see where it’s going.”
Bellia became the second state champion in program history in 2021 when she joined Michelle Fredlake (1975). Melissa Yergler was a second-place finisher for the Indians in 2018.
Bellia, who ran cross country in the fall for the Indians, notes that her life is not exclusively tennis.
“Tennis is important to me, but it’s not everything,” said Bellia, who is an exceptional student. “I really enjoy it, but I try to keep my balance. Schoolwork is important to me, and so is spending time with my friends and family. And I also like running.”
Bellia will lead his team, which also has a couple of standouts in sisters Ashi and Ani Amalnathan, in its first action against Elkhart on April 12 in Leeper Park.
“I would not say I have to do it (win a state championship) again,” Bellia concluded. “I want to stay in the moment and enjoy the season and be a part of this team.”