I am at a deluxe pickleball clinic and life is beautiful…Six of us are sharing a three bedroom resort suite that has a view of Lake Okanagan. The grounds are extensive with hiking paths and old Ponderosa pine trees. The company is compatible, and as a bonus, we are learning things about pickleball. For me, that is the best part of all…I have hundreds of questions for two of my roommates. They are the reigning women’s doubles champions from last year’s US Nationals!…. One of them is Gigi LeMaster who I featured in the Feb 19th edition of my blog. She is one of our instructors this week…She is someone that I admire as a person and a player. Our other teacher is the subject of this weeks blog. It is an honor for me to spend time with this remarkable player and she agreed to answer some questions for publication…. Here is:
Sarah Ansboury In Her Own Words
1. Sarah, what is your sports and educational background, and at what age did you realize that sports could be a career option for you?
SA – I’ve been playing some sport my whole life basically. Tennis became my main sport, and my mom teaches tennis, so I started teaching some when I was younger as well….I really didn’t think I would end up in the sports field besides sports psychology. I thought I was on the path to working on the mental side of things and I kind of fell back into teaching tennis and discovered I really loved it.
2. On your videos, I like seeing your attitude. Was there a mentor or teacher in your youth that helped you with your self confidence and positive outlook in life?
SA – I have gone through some personal struggles in my life that helped me shape and grow into the outlook I now have. When I was younger you would see a whole other person. It’s taken some work on my side to see the possibilities of what a positive outlook can do.
3. You were a tennis pro in the Vancouver, WA area for many years. What is the biggest difference between tennis strokes and pb hits that racquet players have to adjust to?
SA – The main difference is in pickleball you don’t need a backswing or much of a follow through. Everything in pickleball is forward.
4. Who introduced you to pickleball, and was it love at first pop?
SA – The local club had started playing at the club I taught at, so some of the members talked me into it. They had a tournament the same weekend that I was running a tennis tournament, so I figured I would be there so I might as well try it….I ran into a friend of mine from high school and she had needed a partner for an upcoming tournament so I just started getting more involved and eventually got hooked like everyone else.
5. Once you were on the pb tournament trail, it didn’t take long for you to find success…To my observation, you were the women’s player of the year for 2015….My favourite match of yours from last year was the WD finals from the US Nationals VII where Gigi LeMaster and yourself were playing against Corrine Carr and Simone Jardim. I’ve watched and rewatched the match many times…It’s very dramatic and entertaining stuff. When I interviewed Gigi, I asked her about the finals, so I know how happy she was when you two won…Can you give me your perspective on what it felt like for you to win the gold medal in women’s doubles at the US Nationals with Gigi LeMaster?
SA – I think it was such a growth tournament for me…I really discovered what I could do and what I wanted to do. It was nice they both were possible. In playing with Gigi, I learned how to be a good partner on top of a good player. We worked as a team. I knew how important it was to Gigi and I wanted to do that for her. We really used our strategies and had solid teamwork. I was able to better understand pickleball as well as better understand what my capabilities were…I feel the game we played was complete – it had the soft game, hard game and mental game all in one.
6. You have been on a roll in 2016. Your skill and hard work is paying off with medals in all your events and in different brackets. In mixed doubles, you and Wes Gabrielsen have had ”the force” behind you, with MX gold in 19+ at the Grand Canyon State Games, gold in open 5.0 at the LeMaster-Davison and the same at the SoCal Classic. When I watch you and Wes in action, I can see how difficult it is for your opponents…You two are a wall, especially down the middle. What do you like about Wes Gabrielsen as a player and a person?
SA – I love that playing with Wes allows me to play my favourite side of the court! Wes truly understands what it takes to play mixed doubles. He has the same positive attitude I do, so I feel our on court energy is only getting better. We both communicate well and he reads the ball so well but has the patience to make things work. I’m very happy we found each other and look forward to the rest of the year. Everyone always says they don’t know Wes, but he seems so nice my response is always – he’s nicer than he seems.
7. One of the highest profile events in pickleball history was the inaugural US Open at Naples, Florida in late April. In the mixed doubles finals, you were teamed up with Daniel Moore. You two won gold in your CBS televised match vs Dave Weinbach and Gigi LeMaster. I must say that you and Daniel looked like a well practiced team, but appearances are deceiving….I don’t think you two had competed together before – or had much preparation time…I’m thinking that Daniel is a quick study. Did you have any trouble getting in sync with his playing style?
SA – Dan flew in on Monday and mixed was on Saturday. Monday was the first time we played together – then we played again Saturday. We had an open conversation and practice. We decided what we should do. I wanted him to play his strengths so we could play to our abilities. I feel we communicated very well and were positive and encouraging together. When you have Dan as a partner it’s not hard to be successful.
8. At the US Open women’s finals, expectant mother Christine McGrath and you won gold competing with Laura Fenton Kovanda and Corrine Carr. This is one of my favourite all time matches, and it must be the only time a woman has won a major pb tournament while being over 7 months into her pregnancy!…Can you tell me how much fun it was for you to play in this event with your good friend, and trooper of a team mate, Christine McGrath?
SA – It was very important to us to still play this event with her pregnant…We just had to rework some of our strategies and I had to maybe cover a little more court than usual and maybe she couldn’t swing as hard as usual – but she still knows the game better than most so we knew what we had to do to make things happen….I love playing with Christine. We connect really well and communicate what we want and need from each other as partners. Sometimes we have to remind each other to focus because we are having so much fun. She just had the baby on the 27th of June so I’m looking forward to being able to play with her again soon.
9. In open women’s singles at Naples, you won a bronze medal. Do you enjoy singles as much as doubles play, and do you work on different strategies when you’re practicing for a high caliber singles match vs a doubles event?
SA – I definitely enjoy doubles more. It was really tough mentally and physically to go from all that doubles – and the crowds and excitement – to singles day after most people left, and it was a struggle to be motivated to play after putting so much energy into the rest of the week. I like playing singles for a different option and the fitness of it, but I definitely favour my doubles play.
10. Earlier this year, you started doing your very helpful pb tips videos. You have also been doing pb clinics and, in the past, tennis instruction. Is teaching in you blood?…Is it part of your DNA?
SA – As much as I love playing, I LOVE teaching. Teaching comes much more naturally to me. I love being able to work with someone and help them improve their game. My mom teaches tennis as well, so I think I get that from her. I am teaching pickleball full time now between tournaments and I get to travel to so many places, meet so many people and see so many different courts!
* Thanks Sarah for sharing pickleball secrets with us at our clinic. Gigi and you work together as well on the teaching courts as you do on the tournaments courts. For those of you who are wondering about the title of this edition, the 3 Bees that our teachers are emphasizing are Breathe, Balance, and Believe. Sarah Ansboury and Gigi LeMaster’s clinic here in Kelowna has been educational but also lots of laughs and kidding around….I’m already learning how to breathe and play at the same time!… In my next edition I will ask Sarah questions about the game, her pb writing, her relationship, and her coming to the Canadian Nationals for the first time.
* This video is the first time I had seen Sarah in action. It’s the final open WD game from last years US Nationals.
Sarah Ansboury, Gigi LeMaster v Corrine Carr, Simone Jardim https://youtu.be/470hj5m8vEI
* Here is ”the force”- Sarah with Wes in a gold medal match from the LeMaster-Davison in the spring.
Sarah Ansboury, Wes Gabrielsen v Christine Barksdale, Tyler Wren https://youtu.be/dPztd7NC-WU
* This is CBS Sports coverage from the Pro MX Final.
Sarah Ansboury, Daniel Moore v Gigi LeMaster, Dave Weinbach https://youtu.be/IBgStR6oGBI
* US Open again…Pro Women’s Doubles
Sarah Ansboury, Christine McGrath v Corrine Carr, Laura Fenton Kovanda https://youtu.be/CzWXtcXTng4
* Post game interview with Sarah, Christine and Clare MacLean-Bell (Great Britain Pickleball) https://youtu.be/12wZoNZcwag
I have my own nicknames for the top pickleballers that I like to watch on YouTube. I think of Sarah as Super Sarah, but in reality I think that is not an accurate description of her. Certainly she has great athletic talent, but I think Sarah’s success has more to do with her court attitude. I will explore more of this in the next edition. Until then…
Thanks for the game,