Cox tennis star's got game - on the court and off


Shannon Rogers was frantic.

But drama is the norm for Rogers, the Eastern Region's dominant girls tennis player.

"My after-prom plans are falling apart," groaned Rogers, a cell phone pasted to her ear as her Cox High School teammates wrapped up the region title last month at Centre Court Racquet Club in Newport News.

Earlier, the drama was about homework: "I have to design a whole fashion line tonight. We've had three weeks to do it, and I haven't started."

Then there was the "crisis" in English class:

"Mr. Snodgrass, may I pleeez go to the bathroom?" Rogers pleaded five minutes into the period.

"You just got here, Shannon," teacher Jim Snodgrass responded dryly.

"I have a hydration test later," she joked. "Eh, what's a hydration test?"

"Shannon is a bit overly dramatic," said her best buddy, fellow Cox senior Kaitlyn Hiltz. "The good thing is she always laughs it off."

The tennis court is her finest stage, a place where her antics are what TV commentator Mary Carillo would call Big Babe tennis -- staying along the baseline and crushing the ball at a blistering pace.

Rogers annihilates the ball and has done the same to every region opponent in her path the last two years. Last month she won her second region championship, surrendering four games in three matches. Rogers will get her final chance to win a state title in singles and doubles starting in Thursday's Group AAA quarterfinals in Newport News.

Though one tournament organizer jokingly said the sun doesn't rise and set on Rogers, an intense glow does seem to follow her around. Rogers rolled to her second Beach District title earlier this spring with a mini-fan club in tow, including many from the Cox boys team, shouting her name in support.




"C'mon, girl!" said Rogers, a familiar refrain she uses to pump herself up along with a thigh slap. Another winner flew off her racket, her entourage cheered, and a newspaper photographer snapped pictures.

"Here, queen," her father, Jimmy, said, handing her a bottle of water.

Rogers is in the spotlight.

Loving it, too.

She's no typical diva. Yet it's hard not to stereotype a giddy blonde bubbling with news about last weekend's dance party who is eager to show off the "J.Lo" prom dress she bought in Miami, where she went for spring break.

Yet, on school days, "I'm up at 7, out the door at 7:05," said Rogers, who forgoes makeup in school and more often than not throws on her favorite outfit of black sweats, a Reebok tennis warm-up and comfy flip-flops. The glistening crystal on the left side of her nose is a new addition to her look and a mainstay, simply because "I can't get it out," she said.

The coral chipped polish on her fingernails doesn't match that on her toes. And that J.Lo dress she has been talking about for months? Sure, the blue and green colors match the notoriously revealing gown Jennifer Lopez once wore to the Grammys, but Rogers' gown has a different design -- less low-cut than the J.Lo original -- and it comes mom-and-dad approved.

She divides her class periods into two lists: those that have a bunch of her favorite guy friends and those that don't. Rogers lists lots of boys as best friends -- there's also the one she describes as a "boy toy," a guy she maybe would like to have as a boyfriend but who falls into a separate category.

A mixture of friends joins her daily for lunch at one of two places not far from Cox -- Volcano for sushi or Guadalajara for Mexican. At either place, Rogers isn't shy about ordering plenty.

"I'm not like a lot of my friends who starve themselves so they can fit into their prom dress," said Rogers, nagging her mom to head to Wendy's during a break in the region tournament. "I'm craving a chicken sandwich."

Nothing beats a day at the beach, a shopping afternoon -- "when I go I don't stop for five hours" -- but mainly Rogers likes to pal with her best buds.

"I love packing a bunch of people into my car," she said, speaking of her Grand Cherokee with the license plate reading "1 STATE," celebrating the state title the Falcons won her sophomore year.

Then there's the tennis life.

Rogers was a good field hockey player and enjoyed golf -- driving the ball, that is.

"When we got to putting, I'd pick it up and throw it in the cup," she said, laughing.

But tennis always has been No. 1 with Rogers.

It all started "with my garage door," said Rogers, who insists the family went through three of them, thanks to her banging balls at them constantly.

Four years ago, when Rogers arrived at Cox, she played second fiddle to Michele Fanney, a player she couldn't match for consistency or pace. Today Rogers' game shows off a variety of weapons that she loves to mix and match. She relishes the idea of "killing" the ball, but she has become especially adept at throwing in a drop shot or half-volley, slice and spin.

Rogers makes it look easy against a region that isn't up to her level. But high school tennis, less significant for many top junior players, might bring out her best weapon: competitiveness.

Last spring after playing six lengthy sets of doubles on state quarterfinal day, Rogers collapsed on the court, announcing that only a stretcher could lift her, complaining of blisters on her feet and longing to head home for an early bedtime.

Then she got the news. Tournament organizers had promised her doubles opponents in the next round that they could return to Richmond for a morning graduation ceremony. That meant Rogers would have to be part of another match -- beginning in a half-hour.

"No way," she said, lying flat on the court.

Fifteen minutes later, she grabbed partner Imee Bautista and said, "Let's win this in 30 minutes."

Rogers and Bautista won in three sets to advance to the doubles final.

This spring, Rogers concedes that senioritis invaded her game, some of it due to a crushing defeat last spring in the state singles quarterfinals. Rogers sat on the court and cried after a sobering 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 loss to Mills Godwin's Katie Blow, a player she had beaten previously.

"After I lost to Katie, I didn't pick up a racquet all summer," Rogers said. "Last year, I really wanted it for me. This year, it was more about the team."

Cox team matches, particularly the postseason, are loud, spirited competitions. Much of that is due to the feistiness the gregarious Rogers brings. That carries over to the support group of friends and parents watching, with emotions seeming to sway with every winner she hits, every backhand she nets.

Rogers will berate herself often with, "It's not rocket science," and her grunting becomes more emphatic the longer she labors. Doubles matches are even noisier. Rogers never shuts up -- during the point.

"C'mon!" "Go!" "I got it." "Yours." "Mine."

Opponents look annoyed.

"I love playing with her," said Abbey Wexel, her doubles partner at Cox this year.

The University of Southern Mississippi awaits Rogers in the fall. Upon visiting the school, she fell in love with the campus and is excited about the prospect of all the tennis travel a Conference USA schedule affords.

She's mum on a major. One day she dreams of a future as "owner of a winery in Italy." Another day it's, "I want to be Nadal's girlfriend or somebody famous in New York."

"The thing is, it hasn't hit me yet. I feel like I'm going to be going to summer camp for a really long time."

What has hit her is this time is ending, and these times aren't coming back.

Teammate Jenny Lee celebrated with her Cox teammates after her singles victory in the region final clinched it. A quick victory, with no doubles necessary.

"Now you can get your hair done for prom," an excited Lee told Rogers.

Already taken care of, Rogers informed her.

"Right now I'm dealing with after-prom."

For Rogers, the drama never ends.

Vicki Friedman, (757) 446-2039


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Vicki L. Friedman

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