Two alumni and one long-time teacher are the perfect match for the George School Girls Varsity and JV teams. Elena Harris ’90 is delighted to serve as Varsity Head coach this season alongside her George School mentor Cheri Mellor, who serves as assistant coach, and George School alumna Cecilia Grissa ’04, who will lead the JV team as head coach.
“We’re like family. For us, being able, as strong, reflective, thoughtful women, to impact these young girls through a sport like tennis is really a blessing,” Elena said.
Elena is excited to welcome Cecilia Grissa ’04 back to George School as the JV tennis coach this season. While at George School, Cecilia was a leading player, and she went undefeated in league play and won the Friends Schools League title during her first two years on the team. Cecilia was coached by Cheri, and has taken private lessons with Elena over the years. This close connection is what makes the coaching staff for the team so special.
“It will allow us to coach Varsity and JV in a more streamlined way,” said Elena. “For us to be able to work together as a more cohesive unit can only mean greater things.”
“I’m a product of George School,” Elena continued. Her coaching philosophy stems from teachings she learned from George School athletic directors and coaches like Nancy Bernardini, Anne Leduc, and Polly Lodge during her time as both a student and coach.
Elena’s first connection to George School tennis was as a student, playing on the team for four years from 1986 to 1990. “To come back to George School was a deep and meaningful choice,” shared Elena. “To be able to give a little piece of myself back to a place that truly saved my life in extraordinary ways was extremely important.”
Current Assistant Coach Cheri Mellor served as both Elena’s head coach and advisor during her first year. While Cheri left to continue her education in Elena’s later years as a student, the pair stayed in touch. Years later, Elena and Cheri reunited–this time as a coaching duo at George School, building upon their special relationship. Now, they use their unique bond to make an impact on students.
“Cheri and I really believe that we have a remarkable opportunity through the love of this game to impact the character and the heart and soul of these student athletes,” said Elena.
Over the past thirty years, Elena has coached in many different settings, including starting her own tennis academy, coaching at racquet clubs across the country, and teaching private lessons. While she has coached at every level from juniors to professional, her passion has always been coaching young athletes. “I really enjoy working with juniors because I’m helping them learn life skills through tennis,” said Elena. “Tennis is a remarkable opportunity within sports to learn problem solving, resiliency, and how to figure things out on your own.”
While Elena teaches great technique on the court, her favorite teaching subject is mindfulness. “We think about our time out [on the tennis court] as 50% technical physical and 50% mental and mindful,” explained Elena.
During preseason, Elena guides her team in mindfulness exercises focusing on breath work and inner reflection in the meetinghouse. “I love the opportunities we have when we’ve been in the meetinghouse together.” shared Elena. “It is a really special place for me as a person and as an alumna.”
Outside of practice, Elena nurtures a supportive team dynamic. The team regularly gathers for team dinners and activities, like tie-dying t-shirts, to bond. Elena recalls some of her favorite moments with the team, like blasting music on the court and laughing together. “The whole point of playing tennis at George School is to be able to walk away with the most extraordinary team experience that you couldn’t find anywhere else.”
“When we’re out there on the court working really hard, we need to remember there’s more to us than just our tennis,” Elena said.
Growing up in Trenton, NJ, a neighbor gifted Elena with her first tennis racket at the age of seven. Looking back, she appreciates the sport for all the opportunities it granted her in life. “Tennis really was a tool for me to deal with things in my life, and that’s why I’m such a proponent for instilling in these players that tennis can be anything you want it to be,” Elena shared.
The coaching staff is looking forward to another great season this fall on new tennis courts located next to the Fitness and Athletics Center (FAC), courtesy of the hard work of the George School Physical Plant Department. Check them out at their next home match! See the schedule here.