SAN ANTONIO – Palestine Ladycat Monique Ybarra grew up with a tennis racket in her hand. Now, her prowess on the court has landed her a third trip to the UIL state tennis tournament.
From the moment she was old enough to hold a racket, her dad Tony Ybarra, had Monique, her sister and two brothers essentially living at the tennis courts.
“My dad said the moment he saw the eye contact I made with the ball he knew I was ready to learn,” Monique said. “I've been working on my game since I was three. He was out there everyday with us making sure we were practicing.”
Monique will have the spotlight on her for more reasons than her back-to-back first place finishes in girls’ singles at the district and regional tournaments. It will be primarily because of the weight the Ybarra name carries in the tennis community.
Her dad, Tony, was once ranked the fourth-best player in all of Texas. Older brother, Ryan, was a three-time state champion at Tyler All-Saints Episcopal andeventually played on the collegiate level. Older brother, Stefan, won a state doubles crown.
Older sister, Stevie Ybarra, who finished third at state as a PHS sophomore, was a three-time state qualifier and now the assistant tennis coach with Palestine.
Stevie and Monique missed the chance to play with each other in high school because of the four-year age gap. Although the dynamic of how they take the court together has changed, it has still been a year to cherish for them both.
“I'm so grateful to be sharing these memories with Monique,” Stevie said. “I was just here in her shoes a few years ago going to state. It would mean the world to me to watch her become a state champion.”
Monique finished third in both of her previous trips to state. Last year, her opportunity to return to state was taken away due to COVID during a season she felt a state title was imminent.
So she didn't deny the fact there is pressure to deliver a state championship in her final year with Palestine. However, her preparation has gotten her ready for these big stage moments.
“My dad always told me state should be the easiest tournament you play all year,” Monique said. “I've grown up traveling to tournaments every month. The competition level there is way higher than it is in high school. The girls at state may not get the chance to play outside of high school. So that's the advantage I have.”
Monique intends to take one match at a time and bring a state medal back home. Staying mentally tough may be one of the hardest tasks any of the competitors will face given the intensity of the moment.
Earlier this year, Monique got a better understanding of of how physically and mentally taxing it can get. She went to battle with a 6A school in a non-district match that lasted three hours. She lost the first set 7-5, won the second set 7-5 and eventually lost in the tiebreaker match.
That opportunity, along with training from Stevie and her former college teammates, as well as with Stefan, has given her all the practice she needs in order to succeed at state.
“I have a lot of people in my corner,” Monique said. “I have to keep a strong mentality. I know the game I play and I know I'm good.”
The 2021 UIL 4A state tennis tournament will be Thursday and Friday at the Annemarie Tennis Center in San Antonio.