Some tennis players will tell you that wind is the biggest challenge they will face when playing against an opponent. Surging and shifting gusts can heavily influence an outcome.
Then there is the dank, gloomy, cold and wet conditions that have dominated the area this “spring”. A situation that has been a severe setback to the local tennis teams as they prepare to head out and compete at the onset of the season.
Both Morris coach Keith Anderson and Coal City coach Matt Lehman said that they have found ways to keep their teams engaged and ahead of stagnancy that can come from being stuck inside.
“We’ve been pushing card, core and leg strength since we have been unable to do much work on the court,” Lehman said. “My top eight is the top eight returning from last year, so we are also looking to improve our strategy and increase consistency and power on serves.”
“We’ve been doing a lot of speed work because we couldn’t get out,” Anderson said. “We’ve also been doing agility drills and speed drills. We’ve also been working on footwork and fundamentals like forehand technique and serves.”
Whatever it takes to stay engaged.
Morris opens at Mendota on Thursday and Coal City starts on Tuesday at Bishop McNamara.
When asked who Anderson thinks are going to be the biggest difference-makers this spring, he threw out a couple of familiar names and a new one.
“Brian Bernier has been a big part of the team for the last couple of years,” he said. “Zach Harper, Noah Doss, Mark Kijowski and we also have an up and coming freshman in Jon Smyk.”
Those five, along with Mike Funk are expected to open the season as singles players in the 6-3 format against Mendota.
“And we’ll probably use a combination of those players for doubles,” Anderson said.
Anderson said that the team will be using challenge matches throughout the year to determine openings in the lineup. He anticipates guys like Jorge Gutierrez, Alex Hansen and Sean Phillips may also make their presence felt by the time all is said and done.
In terms of the Northern Illinois Big 12 Conference, Anderson said that those meets are only as important as any other on the schedule.
“I’ve heard that our conference is pretty tough,” he said. “I just told the guys to go out and do their best. There’s not a lot of expectations around this team this year, but I told them to just go out and to do a good job … We don’t have any goals set. I just want them to go out and to do their best.”
Coal City preview
As mentioned earlier, Coal City returns its top eight players from last year, leaving Lehman feeling optimistic.
“Zack Pierard and Tony Norris at No. 1 doubles are my top players, with potential to go past sectionals and qualify for state,” Lehman said. “My No. 1 singles player, Justin Riebe, has the same potential. All three of these seniors will need to play tough every match of the season to try and earn a seed at the sectional.”
Those are part of the goals the Coalers have set for the coming season.
“The team goals remain the same as every year until we achieve it. Win more matches than we lose,” Lehman said. “Without a conference we play a variety of teams. Some provide little challenge for us while other teams we know going in that our chances are slim. We try not to make predictions because you never know what a team brings each season, so we hope to improve on our record from last year and start a tradition with a winning record.
“Our individual goals vary, from the top guys qualifying for State to my third doubles team winning 90-percent of their matches to my incoming freshmen working their way into the varsity lineup.”
Freshmen John Halloran and Mike Mginn are two that Lehman mentioned specifically.
Coal City is at Bishop McNamara on Tuesday to open the season.
“Our schedule is well balanced. With no conference tournament to look forward to, we focus on beating teams we have been able to beat in the past, as well as add some wins against teams that we have struggled against,” Lehman said. “We have several competitive tournaments and quads this year that may be a struggle for us - Joliet, Lincoln-Way Central, Yorkville and Lockport. We like to play challenging teams and then use those losses as motivation to improve rather than win on an easy schedule.”