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WSHS Athletic Hall of Fame inductees (09/09/2007)

(This is the first in a series of four articles on people who will be inducted into the Winona Senior High School Athletic Hall of Fame the weekend of Oct. 5-6).

Lisa (Bublitz) Conway lived the dream.

She was a state tennis champion for Winona Senior High School. She went to California to train. She traveled to England and Scotland on a professional tour. She attended the prestigious Nick Bolleterri Tennis Academy in Florida and played on the Nike Circuit and Avon Circuit in the United States.

And by the way, she also competed in the 1981 U.S. Open Tennis Championships in Flushing Meadows, N.Y.

All that happened in a five-year span from 1978 to 1982. And there's even more to the story than most people realize.

Tennis was the sport that Conway excelled in and turned professional in. She won the school's first state tennis title in the fall of her junior season in 1978 by defeating Edina's Ann Lemieux in the championship match. She returned a year later and place third at state.

Conway's four-year career at WSHS included three Big Nine Conference titles at No. 1 singles, two Region 1AA crowns, and an 81-11 record (she was 56-2 her final two years). She also led the 1978 team to a state runner-up finish and a 22-1 season.

"I think when I was 16, before my junior year, I realized then that I wanted to play as a professional," Conway said. "I pretty much played year round. I would hit in the racquetball courts at the YMCA from 6-8 o'clock every morning before I went to school. I was playing a lot of indoor tennis and a lot of tournaments - mostly in the Twin Cities and Rochester. I played a lot in La Crosse, probably three times a week indoors."

Between her 1978 state title and 1979 third-place finish at state, there was more on Conway's plate than just tennis. She shined as a junior on the Winhawk girls basketball team. She also went out for track in the spring, just to stay in top shape for tennis.

At the 1979 state track meet, Conway showed the state of Minnesota that there was more to her athletic talent. She won the state Class AA title in the 400-meter dash, while taking third in the 100 and fourth in the 200.

"I did not like track at all," Conway said. "That was only to stay in shape. The sprinting was good for tennis. I did a lot of sprints and a lot of jump rope."

She never ran track again. Her heart was set on playing tennis at the highest possible level.

"She just came on ready to play from the get-go," said Cathy Solem, who coached the WSHS girls tennis program for 31 years. "She was always quick. She always got to the ball. All I remember is how good she was. That was back in the Chris Evert era, when women's tennis was all about those long rallies.

"She played more like Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe. She had a great drop shot and she liked to serve and volley. She had it all. She could mix it up. When she won state, she came to the net and everyone tried to lob on her. If I had a dollar for every overhead she hit that year, I'd be rich. She always played hard."

Conway's senior season of high school tennis didn't end like she had hoped. She lost in the state semifinals and had to settle for third place.

Shortly after the state tournament, Conway and her mom Sally headed to California.

"The summer before my senior year, I met up with a coach (Steve Furgal) that I ended up going to California to train with," Conway said. "He had a bunch of kids he traveled with every summer. We traveled with him a little bit. We arranged to go out there and be coached by him after my senior year of tennis."

In the summer of 1980, Conway and her mom headed to England and Scotland to play on the Pernot Circuit, where she won two tournaments and placed second in a couple others. They weren't big-money tournaments, but Conway admitted "I was winning enough to cover the expenses."

Conway hung around to watch the Wimbledon tournament that year, then returned to the U.S. to attend Nick Bolleterri's tennis camp in Florida for 18 months. She trained there and traveled with others in the camp to tournaments.

The highlight of her pro career came in August of 1981 when she competed in the U.S. Open Championship.

"I didn't get to play on the main court; it was one of side courts," said Conway, who was ranked as high as 184th in the world. "There were so many courts there. I played singles and doubles. I didn't do nearly as well and as I would have liked to. I think I won one match in singles and lost my second. In doubles, we did not do well."

Then it was back to Florida, the Bolleterri camp and more tournaments. It was her plan to return to Flushing Meadows in 1982, but it never happened. The night before she was to fly to New York, she crushed her rotator cuff in a freak accident.

"One of my brother's friends thought he could pick me up over his head and twirl me," Conway recalled. "He fell and I came crashing down on my shoulder."

She had surgery and tried to come back and play. But she couldn't. Her pro career was over at age 20.

"It was too much to come back and play at the level I wanted to play," she said. "I tried, but I was never the same again."

Conway returned to Winona in 1985 and spent time coaching tennis at the Winona Country Club, the Winona Middle School and Saint Mary's University.

"The only regret I have is not going to college," said Conway, who is married with three children. "I had several schools that talked to me and had full rides. That would be the only thing I'd do different.

"If it's a dream and it's something that kids put the work into year round, I see nothing wrong with doing that. They have to work at it like I did."



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