The Fitch girls varsity tennis team is looking to improve this year with a good deal of returning talent and some great senior leadership. Coach Steve Ward said he will have more experience on the court this year.
"We only lost two seniors from last year's team," he said. "We're looking to do better than .500 this year."
Last year's team finished the season at 8-12. Ward said it was a young team that still managed to send seven into the playoffs. Between the three singles and two doubles teams, all seven made the first round.
Photos by J.T. Whitehouse, Town Crier
Practice sessions are well under way for the Fitch girls tennis team this week. Leading the way is the varsity team comprised of seniors in front row: Julia Jorge, Emily Wirtz, Sarah Kupas, and Melinda McMullen. In back row are sophomore Capri Corbin, and juniors Latrice Nelson, Ashley Hanuschak, Katie Klepec, Mariah Cuevas, and Sierra DuBois.
"One girl was one step away from a division title," Ward said. "As long as we can stay healthy, we should do better this season. We're looking forward to it."
Ward has 18 girls who came out for the team this year. With that number, he didn't have to cut anyone and tryouts this week are simply for the top spots and to find who will work well with whom in doubles competition.
In tennis, team members are rated by an honor system. During practices, each member plays other team members as individuals or as doubles partners. They are then rated bu number. When they come up against an opposing team, the number one player plays the opposing number one player. Two plays two and on down the list. That means the top spot is always up for grabs.
"Once you achieve the number one spot, you have to work hard to keep it," Ward said.
He said other team members are always trying to improve their ranking within the team.
Currently, the top spot belongs to senior Emily Wirtz, who also serves as team captain. She said she loves tennis and plans to continue playing at either Ashland University or Ursuline College after graduation.
"She is our big gun, but she provides great leadership for the rest of the team," Ward said.
As for the season, Ward said it is like playing chess. He has to make the right moves for each specific team. In high school tennis there are always three singles matches and two doubles. Whoever wins three or more of the matches, wins the meet.
"Some coaches put their top three in singles so they can win three out of five and take the overall win," Ward said.
The hard part is in getting the right combination. Ward said he could put the number two and three player in doubles, then have number one play number one, and the number four player take on number two.
"It becomes a chess game with each school to see how they will make a match," he said.
Ward teaches English at Fitch and has served as a baseball and football coach in the past. When he took on the tennis coaching role, he quickly saw the value of the player ratings.
"In this sport, you're never guaranteed the top spot," he said. "Any teammate could move up and take it away. I makes everyone do their best in matches as well as practice. It's a very fair process."