At 5 feet 3 inches tall, Sara Schiffman almost never overpowered her opponents on the tennis court. Nor did she have the fastest serve or the biggest groundstrokes, but the former University of Pennsylvania standout often called upon her mental toughness, fitness and just plain persistence to overcome — or at least push to the limits — opponents with far more weapons at their disposal.
Now that the 22-year-old Wynnewood native is in her first year as assistant women's tennis coach at Penn, she's working to impart these personal qualities to her former team — and some of her former teammates.
"We really like players who are going to fight it out to the end, and who are never going to give up, " said Schiffman, who first picked up a racket at the age of 6 but didn't start playing competitively until she turned 13.
"It's great in the morning waking up and doing what you love to do. It's kind of like being a student again, except I get to do tennis all day long," added Schiffman, who majored in psychology. "I've got grad school in the picture at some point, but I'm not really in a rush to go as long as I'm enjoying this."
During her senior year, Schiffman had the opportunity to do some coaching during match play. Now that it's her full-time job, she has to help develop the team's physical-fitness routine, fill out piles of paperwork and occasionally travel around the country to recruit future players.
Currently, the team is in its short fall season, where players enter large collegiate tournaments that are essentially individual competitions. In spring, the atmosphere gets more intense with dual matches, meaning that Penn plays other schools.
"When you are playing for your school, it adds a whole other element to it," attested Schiffman, who grew up watching the women's team and always wanted to play for Penn. "You have people cheering for you and screaming, where in the juniors, you can hear a pin drop."
A graduate of Lower Merion High School, she had her Bat Mitzvah and confirmation ceremonies at Temple Adath Israel in Merion Station.
In 2003, Schiffman competed in the Pan-American Maccabi Games in Chile. She traveled to Israel in 2005 as a member of the American contingent at the World Maccabiah Games.
That "was probably one of the best experiences of my life. We went all over the country; we had this great tour guide. I would love to go back."