Written by Don Ratzlaff Tuesday, 02 September 2008 15:05
The unofficial theme for the girls’ tennis team at Hillsboro High School could be “All Things New.”
With head coach Lynn Wiebe taking a break after seven years at the helm, and with the graduation of eight seniors from last year’s team, the Trojans will have a very different look in 2008.
Leading the way is Bob Woelk, who steps up to head coach after serving the past three years as Wiebe’s assistant.
“I learned a lot from her,” Woelk said. “It was a good chance to learn.”
With budget cuts limiting the program to one coach instead of two, Woelk will be the lone mentor for a relatively young and inexperienced squad that has a lot to learn. The roster includes one senior, one junior, six sophomores and two freshmen.
Kelsey Bartel, the lone senior, and sophomore Becky Faber both saw enough varsity court time to earn letters. The other girls are newcomers to varsity tennis, and a couple to the sport itself.
“Because we had so many seniors last year, most of the girls didn’t get a lot of opportunity to play varsity,” Woelk said. “It will be interesting to see where they fit in.”
One strength the girls share is a positive attitude, Woelk said. “This is a group of girls that loves to have fun.”
That doesn’t necessarily translate into competitive success this season, though.
“It’s obviously going to depend on (court) maturity,” Woelk said about the outlook for his team. “We have a lot of youth and inexperience, which is not necessarily a disadvantage. The advantage for these girls is that when they come back as juniors and seniors, they will have a lot of varsity experience. So the learning curve is going to be pretty sharp in the beginning.”
Woelk worked with most of the girls last season as the JV coach. He said one of his chief challenges this year will be to know how to expose his young players to the competitive intensity of varsity tennis.
“That’s going to be an interesting thing for me as a coach—to protect them a little bit, but also let them spread their wings a little bit,” he said.
“We’ll find out in a hurry what they’re made of. I don’t question the girls’ desire to play, and to play well. But not having the varsity experience will make it difficult at first.
“I kind of promised them I would do my best to make them better players by the end of the year. What I’ll expect from them is to make the effort to become better players.”
As the only coach, Woelk said providing 10 girls with adequate personal attention will be a challenge, given their range of experience.
“I’m going to have separate out the girls who can step right up and hit against the ball machine, and the girls we wouldn’t put in front of a ball machine yet because of inexperience,” he said.
Finding a lineup
To start the season, Woelk said he will be experimenting with a variety of lineups. At the core will be Bartel and Faber, though their roles are not yet clearly defined.
“Kelsey, played a lot of doubles (last year) and probably had the most success as a doubles player,” Woelk said. “So she may be leading the No. 1 doubles team, but singles is a real possibility, too.
“Kelsey is a very strong and very smart player,” he added. “What we need to work on with her is hitting winners, moving the ball around. But she is very coachable, a very quick learner. She’s also a great quiet leader.”
Faber seems to be fitted for singles, Woelk said.
“Becky has potential for being a really strong player, but she hasn’t faced a lot of real intense competition yet,” he said.
“When she’s a freshman, you hate to throw her into that because there are some mind games being played out there by the wily veterans. But I expect her to step up and do really well.”
Vying to fill the other four varsity spots are junior Trisha Pankratz, sophomores Elise Heyen, Emma Heyen, Aubrey Meier, Hayley Pankratz and Ashlyn Simmons, and freshmen Calli Nickel and Rachel Mackenzie.
“The rest of the girls that have tennis experience do have some potential,” Woelk said. “They have some strengths in their game and they have weaknesses we need to work on. Serving is a weakness for most of them, so we’re really going to have to step up on that.
“They’re all pretty good hitters, pretty good ground-stroke type players,” he added. “What we need to work on is hitting winners—the shots that make you different. In JV you kind of wait out your opponent. In varsity, you need to be a little more aggressive.”
Because of the team’s inexperience, the Trojans have dropped Wichita Collegiate’s Tournament of Champions from the schedule this year.
“That is a brutal tournament,” he said. “Maybe next year we’ll get right back in it, but right now we’re just a little too young.”
Otherwise, the 2008 schedule has a familiar ring. The Trojans will open again with their own eight-team Hillsboro Invitational on Tuesday, Sept. 2. They’ll also host the annual eight-team Trojan Invitational on Sept. 25.
This year, the Trojans will enjoy two additional home-court opportunities. It is Hillsboro’s turn to host the league tournament Oct. 4 and the Sports Complex has been identified as a sub-state playoff site on Oct. 11.
Woelk is hopeful that his team will make its presence felt at the league meet.
“I would expect us to have some strong contenders,” he said. “Tennis is surprisingly a momentum game. You can be down a bunch and come roaring back, or you can be on cruise control and suddenly you’re in a match. We should score some points there.”
This will be the second year the state will have a sub-state tournament as a bridge between regionals and state.
“That’s one reason why it’s going to be more difficult to make it to state—because you have to take that extra step,” Woelk said. “It’s one reason we didn’t have anybody make it last year—more matches.”