SOUTHERN UTAH – The 2013 girls’ tennis season opened last week, with a blend of fresh faces and returning champions battling to give their team an edge in already tough matches.
Over the next month and a half, Region 9‘s seven high schools will compete against one another in local season matches. Players that earn a top five seed at the Region tournament will go on to face teams from across Utah, including 2011 and 2012 champion Judge Memorial Catholic High School and 2012 runner-up Park City High School, at State.
Competition is stiff and teams must make every match count. Only two overall points kept Pine View out of the runner-up spot at State last year, while Desert Hills and Dixie tied.
“We are 3-0 so far this season,” Pine View coach Jessica Stout said. “We’re ready to go all the way.”
Though they’re all competitors on the court, coaches and players from across Region 9 can agree on one aspect of season they’re definitely not looking forward to.
“The heat,” Dixie coach Eric Christensen said. “It’s brutal.”
Canyon View was forced to start from scratch this season, following the graduation of their entire varsity roster. Additionally, coach Zach Hathaway, who had been leading both the boys’ and girls’ teams, passed the torch on to Russian-born former Southern Utah University player Olga Kunz.
“We have a completely new team, so no one knows what to expect from us and we are going to use it to our advantage. I think that will make us a threatening opponent,” Kunz said. “Of course, as all other coaches do, I want to my team to win, but also to enjoy competing and enjoy their game. This is my first year of coaching at Canyon View, so it is all a new experience that I am going through with my team.”
“People underestimate us,” 2nd singles player Sydney Whittaker, 16, said. “(But) we’ve got an awesome coach and a great team.”
This year, Cedar is facing the challenge of inexperience. About half of the team are new players still learning the basics of the game. But what they lack in the on-court prowess of seasoned teams like Dixie and Pine View, they make up for in spirit.
“We have to play smarter than others,” coach Jeremiah Sullivan said. “I like the desire to learn in the players and their great attitudes.”
Only time will tell how the Cedar girls perform under pressure as the season advances.
Though they finished in eighth place in 2012, Desert Hills has won State three out of the last five years and are still viewed as a tough Region 9 competitor. In an effort to reclaim the title, coach Dow Christenson and his players are focusing on conditioning, strength and being mentally tough. Many of the girls have been active throughout the summer, gaining experience through lessons and tournaments.
“A lot has changed from last year; more practices, harder conditioning, longer hours,” 2nd doubles player Olivia Shakespeare, 15, said. “I believe that we are definitely more prepared. Desert Hills will be a threatening opponent thanks to our hard work and amazing coaches.”
“I’m looking forward to seeing just how far these kids can go. Some of them have a real shot at making some noise at State,” Christenson said. “All the parts are there. We just hope the kids can come together as a team.”
Despite the graduation of dominant 1st singles player and 2011 State runner-up Cydnee Wilkinson, Dixie has a solid team of about 10 experienced varsity-level girls who will fight to uphold the school’s long-standing reputation as one of Region 9’s strongest competitors.
“As long as I’ve been at Dixie, our goal is always to win Region and State,” Christensen said. “This year is no different, and I think we have a deep enough team to do it.”
“Our team is deadly because we have a lot of seniors who have been playing for Dixie since they were freshmen. They have been through three tough seasons, obtaining a great deal of experience,” 1st doubles player Savannah Ream, 17, said.
“We are dedicated and work hard,” 2nd singles player Shellbe Watson, 17, said. “We have all spent a lot of time on the court (during) the off-season, so hopefully it will pay off.”
Like Canyon View and Cedar, Hurricane’s team has 12 new players, forcing them to jump headfirst into training rookies. With just a few weeks of pre-season preparation, strengthening the team throughout season while competing in matches is sure to be a challenge.
“We practice daily and the team has improved a lot,” coach Marc Manuele said. “We are ready.”
“The Hurricane tennis team is full of competitive, aggressive, athletic girls who are strong at the net and won’t quit when they’re behind,” 1st doubles player Madi Farish, 17, said. “We’re Tigers and we’ll fight ’till the end, no matter the score.”
Led by two-time 1st singles champion Lacey Hancock, Pine View earned the best result of any Region 9 school at State last season. Looking to follow up that impressive performance, the team has been practicing tirelessly over the summer, often playing two matches a day and participating in conditioning and strength training classes.
“We are ready for the season. We have serious singles players who have been practicing all year long and our doubles are also becoming a strong force,” Stout said. “I love seeing these girls compete and improve as the season goes on. We look forward to tough regional matches that will prepare us for State.”
“Everyone on our team has the drive and passion that every athlete desires. I feel like this is Pine View’s year to get some big wins against our rivals. It’s our time,” Hancock said. “Our opponents won’t even know what hit them.”
Coming off a third-place finish at State last year, Snow Canyon has a new coach, Green Valley Spa assistant pro Duane Schwalger, who brings his passion for the game and years of instruction experience to develop an even stronger team. The talent, however, speaks for itself.
“The girls have been working hard during the summer to improve their game and they are ready to prove themselves and how far they have come,” Schwalger said. “I have just been helping out a little.”
Though the 2013 girls’ tennis season is sure to feature highly competitive matches among tough, determined players, it isn’t all about the trophy and the glory.
“I really want to make this a super fun, good year for me as well as for the rest of my fellow Tigers tennis girls,” Farish said. “Just the thought of tennis makes me happy. It’s a release from everything going on at school and work and an amazing sport. I love everything about tennis!”
“My goal for this season is to play every match the best that I can,” Whittaker said. “I want to look back and know that I tried my hardest even if I didn’t win, because winning isn’t everything. It’s about having fun and enjoying the experience.”
Season matches are held every Tuesday and Thursday at 4 p.m. at all Region 9 high schools. The Region 9 tournament will be held Oct. 4 and 5 at the Green Valley Spa in St. George. The 3A State championship will be held Oct. 11 and 12 at Liberty Park in Salt Lake City.
Both tournaments, along with season, will be overseen by the Utah High School Activities Association.
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- Girls’ tennis: Snow Canyon wins Region, teams head to State
- Monday Rundown: Region 9 could be dominant again at State
- Girls tennis teams to face heavy hitters at Region and State
- Girls tennis opens; Region 9 teams look to improve
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