El Camino tennis player continues to compete despite illness and injuries


Violet Simpson competes in singles and doubles for the El Camino tennis team. Photo credit: Jorge Villa

Violet Simpson gave off a banshee shriek of agony.

She hit the tennis ball into the net, sending the match against Rio Hondo’s Nicole Robbins into a third set she had no energy left for, costing her and the El Camino women’s tennis team the match in the regular season finale.

A frustrated Simpson, who was hospitalized over the previous weekend with a viral infection, dehydration and still dealing with lingering bronchitis during the March 30 match, slumped over to the bench to rest, later throwing in the towel on advice from her coach, Steven Van Kanegan, who told her there was no shame in giving up.

You just started walking again in January, the 25-year-old Simpson said she reminded herself, putting the competitive part of her psyche down as the team got around her.

“I’m so grateful for a coach like that, watching my matches and looking after me. I like playing competitively; if you can’t run then walk; if you can’t walk, you crawl; that sort of thing” Simpson said later in a phone interview, her Australian accent coming up as she relaxed — it takes a bit of effort to sound like an American, she added.

Simpson said she broke her ankle at school last year and was in a boot until December.

“Celiac disease, three surgeries, broken arms and ankle surgery, Simpson said. “I think I have not had six months injury free since I was 11 or 12.”

Van Kanegan said she was still under the weather when she took part in the South Coast Conference Tournament on April 6, beating Erika Garfias of Rio Hondo 6-0, 6-0 to qualify for the state championship, but had to retire during the first set against Diviana Bravo of Cerritos, and didn’t make a doubles match with teammate Stephanie Kingham.

“I wasn’t feeling good after I won. I slept in the team van,” Simpson said. “I was dizzy; my throat was really swollen.”

Simpson said she may take a visit to her doctor’s office during the break, before she resumes action on Thursday, April 27 in the state championships at Ojai.

Born in Santa Cruz and raised in Australia, Simpson was athletic and competed in track, soccer and tennis while growing up. But as her teen years approached, she started getting ill and injured repeatedly, and she gradually gave up athletics.

Enrolling in the nursing program at EC, she realized her body wouldn’t be able to compete at a four-year school’s tennis team, but she wanted one more shot at competitive play, even if it meant stretching her body and time management to the limit.

She took 45 units in her first year at the college and was getting over wrist surgery.

Van Kanegan immediately could tell she was an experienced player. He said as soon as they met, he knew she was a player. But she did have obstacles she had to face.

She was rusty. Her wrist didn’t allow her to drive the ball with topspin. She hits primarily flat balls.

“She does quite well with that but you need topspin,” Van Kanegan said. “But she’s mentally tough as they come and in the tennis world, that’s an incredible weapon to have. She’s a gamer.”

Simpson has also been a leader on the team, giving silly nicknames to those around her, giving tennis advice and even organizing a karaoke birthday party for her doubles teammate Kingham.

“She’s taught me a lot for doubles, learning on volleys places to be. And her serves are killer,” Kingham said. “You can tell she’s been getting a lot better.”

Meanwhile, Simpson, who aims to become a nurse working with at-risk youth or abroad, takes what might be her last time playing competitively in stride.

“Some people wouldn’t play again. I always felt like I could’ve done something with the raw ability,” Simpson said. “But I’ve learned to enjoy what you can do than what you can achieve with it.”