The three buzzwords the valley’s girls tennis coaches used to describe their 2017 high school teams are young, inexperienced and change. But all three head coaches are optimistic about the direction those programs are heading.
While perennial tennis powerhouse Grantsville and a rebuilding Tooele team only have only three official new girls each, Stansbury is welcoming 11 new preps, most of whom are brand new to the sport, SHS head coach Jacob Jones said.
GHS head coach Stephen Thurgood said he has two new sophomores and a very promising new freshman, Hallie Johnson.
“She’s never played tennis before, but she’s got potential,” Thurgood said. “She hits good ones now, but she needs some consistency.”
Regarding inexperience, THS head coach Pat Ciervo added, “I have a lot of new kids. We have have around 30 kids.” Of that group, he said 25 are fairly inexperienced.
“So, we are trying to teach tennis and start younger,” Ciervo said. “It’s going to take a number of years to get Tooele to the place where they can compete with the Grantsvilles of the world and the other good tennis teams throughout the state.”
Stansbury is returning two of its three singles players from a year ago in Victoria Fidler and Chanda Bigelow. The Stallions’ third standout is senior doubles player Alyssa Pritzkau.
The highlight of the SHS team this year, Jones said, is that the team has meshed and enjoys spending time with one another.
“These girls have really taken to a team,” he said. “They want to get together. In years past, we’ve had a good team on the court, but we have never had 30 girls who want to spend time together.”
Though Jones lost a lot of his 2016 seniors, he said the coaches have been surprised at the possibilities for doubles players that have opened up.
“We can have a good, solid 1, 2 and 3 with the right combinations. We are deep — probably five doubles deep, instead of one-and-a-half for doubles,” he said.
This year the new high school classifications changes, based on school size, have turned what used to be a three-way valley rivalry on its nose. GHS is in new territory, even as it remains in its 3A classification. The only team in its region that looks familiar is Morgan.
Rounding out the region are a slew of private-school teams, some of them even 2A schools like Rowland Hall and Waterford, which don’t have enough 2A teams for a bracket. Other similar-sized schools include St. Joseph’s, Layton Christian, Judge Memorial and Draper APA.
On the other hand, Tooele and Stansbury’s matchups in their new 4A class are looking highly familiar. Among their region teams are Ben Lomond, Ogden, Park City, Juan Diego, and one new to them — Bonneville.
Another change the coaches wrestled with this year was starting the season a week earlier than normal.
The Utah High School Activities Association moved up the season starting date by a week. The THS team began practices Monday, allowing players that week of summer activity. Thurgood said GHS started practicing the previous week without many of his players, who were still involved in family summer vacations.
Jones’ team hit the courts last week and the team has been pushing hard with two-a-day practices.
Jones said he has three goals for the team: individual match experience, playing well and hopefully getting a win to give them confidence. Long-term, he looks to have all of his players make it to state, with several top players looking for state placements, he said.
Grantsville’s top players are Kayla Johnson, two-time doubles state champion Marissa Linares and her state-championship doubles partner from last season, Maci Jackson.
“I’m expecting Kayla to win and I think Marissa will be right close to it,” Thurgood said.
For doubles, GHS has strong pairings with Paige Peterson and Lexie Colson, sisters Brooklynn and Brinley Butler and Zoe Ison in the mix. An additional four or five girls could move in to doubles spots, he said.
“Our goal is always to take No. 1,” Thurgood said.
Of Jackson, he said, “she has never played third singles before.”
For the rest of the GHS team, he would like to “find a goal that’s achievable.” He added that many of them will not be on varsity or be No. 1, that is not the expectation. He wants them to play well, but most of all have fun.
The three anchors of the THS team are junior Maddi Young and seniors Mariana Sablin and McKenna Baker, Ciervo said, along with about three or four others.
According to Ciervo, Casey Stephenson and Kammy Hamilton have vastly improved and will help anchor the team. He also has a large group of sophomores in his pocket who have gone to camps in Salt Lake City and have shown dedication as they are approaching their second year.
“(We) deliberately scheduled teams similar to us,” he said.
The Buffs’ first match will be with Juab at 3 p.m. on THS’ home courts next Wednesday.
“We are struggling to get our program back,” Ciervo said. We are doing nothing new. Every match is a teaching element. It’s not the winning. I’m more concerned about their growth.”
His major focus on development of the players into girls and women who want to keep playing.