NEWPORT, R.I. — An important part of being a good tennis player is recognizing when a strategy is not working and making adjustments. For Sally Sutherland and her daughter, Emily Pietrzak, the same can be said about their day-to-day work at the Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) Division Newport.
“At NUWC, there’s an element of being adaptive and being able to work with people,” Sutherland said. “You have to be able to adjust to certain environments.”
“As an analyst — that’s essentially what I do — you have to think about the big picture and all the details in between,” Pietrzak added. “If something isn’t working with the way I’m modeling something, I have to step back and look at things differently. In tennis, you do that too.”
While at Division Newport, Sutherland, a resident of Narragansett, Rhode Island, works as the coordinator for the Naval Engineering Education Consortium for all warfare centers. It is a position she has held for about three months. A Division Newport employee for more than 30 years, Sutherland previously was the head of the Science Technology Division in the Sensors and Sonar Systems Department.
“NUWC is a nice place to work. There’s a good work/life balance being here,” Sutherland said. “It’s one of the things I’ve always enjoyed about working here is that you’re not expected to work 12 hours a day. It’s good to have hobbies, it’s good to do things.”
Pietrzak, meanwhile, has been at Division Newport for a little more than four years. She works in the sonar analysis facility in the Sensors and Sonar Systems Department where she models sonar propagation and studies the environment — “among other things.”
“I’m very grateful to work here,” Pietrzak, a resident of Newport, Rhode Island, said. “There are lots of opportunities for after-work activities like dodge ball, softball and tennis.”
For the Sutherland family, though, tennis is tops.
Sutherland picked up the game about 20 years ago and has not stopped since, playing in a number of leagues throughout the year. Time commitments have her down to playing once or twice per week, although she wishes she could play more often.
“We live in South County, so I started playing in the South Kingstown women’s league, and it’s been a lot of fun. I have a great partner, Beth McLaughlin, who used to work here as an engineer as well,”
Sutherland said. “When I started playing, I did the United States Tennis Association (USTA) for a while, which was fun, but USTA is hard because you play all over the state of Rhode Island. Sometimes you have to go to Connecticut and Massachusetts, so it’s a really tough time commitment.
“Now, in the spring, summer and fall I do the South Kingstown women’s league and it’s a lot of fun. Then in the winter, I play at Tennis Rhode Island on Wednesdays with a group of women.”
Pietrzak, meanwhile, finds time to play a couple times per week. She first got into the game when her mother started playing but did not get hooked until her freshman year at Narragansett High School in 2005. She was selected as the Most Valuable Player of her team both her junior and senior years.
“My freshman year I was sort of shy, and I didn’t know what sport to join. I had played tennis, but I had also played soccer, and I wasn’t really sure what sport I wanted to hone in on,” Pietrzak said. “My older brother, Joe, knew the tennis coach and said he could introduce me to him.
“It was actually quite a bit later — probably a few weeks into the season — I still hadn’t started a sport and everyone else had. He walked me over to meet Russ Wyatt, the tennis coach, and I was so shy, but I felt so confident walking behind my big brother.”
Pietrzak played tennis all four years at Narragansett and became known for her defensive style of play.
“The called me the human backboard. I never hit winners. That wasn’t really my style, but I definitely could get to the ball,” Pietrzak said. “Singles is definitely more of my style of game because you don’t have to come up to the net much, so I just hung out at the back and just got everything back until I wore them down. I loved it.”
Now, Pietrzak most often plays pickup tennis, either with her boyfriend, Dennis Callahan, who also works in Division Newport’s Sensors and Sonar Systems Department, at the courts near their apartment, the clay courts at Naval Station Newport or on the grass courts at the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport. She also plays in a mixed-doubles league with her father, Ken Pietrzak, an Undersea Warfare Combat and C2 Systems Integration technical warrant holder (NAVSEA 05N).
For the family, that is the beauty of the sport. No matter how old or young, fast or slow, tennis provides an outlet for both creativity and competition.
“You can play it your whole life. After a while, you may not be as quick, but you can be a little more devious and be better at shot placements,” Sutherland said. “It’s a great sport.”
NUWC Newport is a shore command of the U.S. Navy within the Naval Sea Systems Command, which engineers, builds and supports America’s fleet of ships and combat systems. NUWC Newport provides research, development, test and evaluation, engineering and fleet support for submarines, autonomous underwater systems, undersea offensive and defensive weapons systems, and countermeasures associated with undersea warfare.
Currently celebrating its 150th anniversary, NUWC Newport is the oldest warfare center in the country, tracing its heritage to the Naval Torpedo Station established on Goat Island in Newport Harbor in 1869. Commanded by Captain Michael Coughlin, NUWC Newport maintains major detachments in West Palm Beach, Florida, and Andros Island in the Bahamas, as well as test facilities at Seneca Lake and Fisher’s Island, New York, Leesburg, Florida, and Dodge Pond, Connecticut.
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