By Bill Sheehan
As a 7-year-old, Jadie Acidera's idea of fun was staying home and playing video games. Then her godmother, Diane Guyette, offered to purchase the young girl some group tennis lessons.
"My parents were really happy to get me out of the house and have me do some exercise," she recalled. "And it really took off from there."
After a few months in the recreational class, Acidera began receiving private lessons. She finished second in her first tournament and began climbing the junior ranks, becoming the No. 1-ranked player in Southern California for ages 10 and under. At JSierra High School in San Juan Capistrano, she was a three-time Trinity League singles champion.
Now, the 20-year-old sophomore from Anaheim is one of the reasons the Cal State Fullerton women's tennis team has a legitimate chance this weekend to win its first-ever Big West Conference Championship. For the fourth straight year, the Titans will play Cal State Northridge in the quarterfinals at Indian Wells Tennis Garden in Indian Wells. The match is Friday at 11:30 a.m.
The Titans, with a 14-5 overall record, are seeded second behind No. 1 UC Santa Barbara in the tournament. Northridge, also 14-5, is seeded seventh and was one of only two Big West teams to defeat Fullerton this season. The Titans finished 6-2 in the conference, tying Long Beach State for second place. An earlier win over Long Beach secured Fullerton the No. 2 seed.
A victory would advance the Titans to the semifinals, where they would play the winner of No. 3 Long Beach vs. No. 6 Cal Poly San Luis Obispo on Saturday at 9:30 a.m. The finals are Sunday at 9:30 a.m.
The Titans fell to Hawaii in the Big West championship match a year ago, and Fullerton sixth-year head coach Dianne Matias said that effort should benefit her team. "I like our chances. We have experience and know what to expect. It's something we have been talking about the whole year. We need to start quickly and get the momentum in our matches," she said.
Winner of 10 straight singles matches
Matias is counting on Acidera to make her presence felt at the conference finals. The 5-foot-3 righthander, who uses a Wilson Blade racquet, has won 10 singles matches in a row. She has an 11-1 overall record in singles while competing in the No. 6 position, and she has a 4-6 record in doubles with four different partners.
"Jadie has made huge strides and is one of the hardest working players on the team. She is very coachable and wants to keep improving," said Matias. "We're adding more tools and weapons to her game. We want her to be more aggressive and look for opportunities to move inside the court."
Her teammate and occasional doubles partner, Caisey Lee Emery, said Acidera is a fun-loving student-athlete with a strong work ethic. "Jadie is very fun to be around. She is always happy and smiling, and we joke around together. But she always works hard and makes everyone around her want to try harder."
"She is very mentally tough on the court and will wear down opponents," said Emery. "And she has really good hands at the net and uses them well in singles and doubles."
Acidera, who was born in Garden Grove, took her first group tennis lesson at Anaheim Tennis Center. Her father, Eddie Acidera, said his daughter didn't enjoy her first day on the court.
"They put her in a boys' group the first day, and Jadie said she didn't want to play anymore. I told her to give it one more day. Then they put her with the girls. After that, she never wanted to let go of a tennis racquet," said Eddie, who services auto loans for a bank.
After learning the basics, Acidera began hitting with her godmother, Guyette, at Marbella Country Club in San Juan Capistrano before enlisting a private coach. John Neri became Acidera's second coach and has worked with her for a dozen years. "Even at an earlier age, Jadie had that drive and was really focused on winning. Her goal was to fill a room up with trophies," Neri said half-jokingly.
Jadie Acidera, playing in the No. 6 position, has won all but one of her singles matches this season
Coach engineers a change to one-handed shots
He retooled her swing, getting Acidera to abandon her two-handed forehand and backhand style for a one-handed approach. She began playing in local tournaments and later competed at United States Tennis Association regional and national events in Florida, Colorado and other states. Acidera regularly ranked in the top 10 in Southern California in the 10-, 12-, and 14- under age groups.
"Her strengths are her mental determination and a strong will. She will fight for every point. When you are on the court with her, you can't let up because she will find a way to sneak back and turn the match around," said Neri, an assistant coach at Fullerton College. "Jadie is primarily a baseline player, but she's finishing a lot more points at the net now and I give props to Dianne for that."
Acidera developed tennis elbow as a 14-year-old and missed several months of competition. But she bounced back and had a stellar career at JSierra High School. Her mother, Janet, works
at Marbella County Club, and the two commuted together from Anaheim by train during Acidera's high school years.
"We had to wake up at 5 a.m. each day. I either walked or Ubered to school from the train station. I loved it at JSerra, and I made so many long-lasting friendships there."
She received offers from out-of-state universities but opted to remain in Orange County. "I'm very family-oriented, so it's very convenient being close to home. And I really like this area."
Acidera resided in a dormitory as a freshman and lives in an off-campus apartment this school year. "Tennis has become a lot more fun for me. I get to play tennis every day with a bunch of girls I really like being around," she said. "And it's been great playing for coach Dianne. She is very patient and has helped make improvements to my game."
A goal of becoming a pediatrician
One of the main reasons Acidera chose to attend Cal State Fullerton was to pursue a nursing degree. But the health science major now is aiming to become a pediatrician. "Helping people is something I'm very passionate about. Being a pediatrician, I would be able to help a wider range of people."
A first-generation Filipino-American, her name is a combination of her parents' names – "Ja" for Janet and "die" for Eddie. She has a dog, a Maltipoo named Jake. Acidera likes to learn languages; she is fluent in Tagalog and has studied Spanish, Japanese and American Sign Language. And she can play three musical instruments: piano, guitar and ukulele.
With four departing seniors, coach Matias expects Acidera to become a team leader next season. "Not only is Jadie a hard worker, she is a fun person to have around and is good with people. We'll rely on her next year to fill a leadership role."
But for now, Acidera is ready to win a Big West team title. "I'm fired up. I've been working on a few different things. Our team has been training really hard. We're peaking, and it's time to show off everything we've put into the program."