Emily Goff should know that she’s not the only one.
When Northview’s girls high school tennis coach returned to the coaching ranks this spring after missing last season for maternity leave, she didn’t see a lot of familiar faces.
“We have 20 players, and 13 of them are new,” she told the Tribune-Star recently.
The Vigo County coaches — and one of them is new as well — know that feeling well. Terre Haute North, a regional champion last season, has just three players with any varsity experience at all for new coach Jeff Farmer, who will be helped by former coach Jim Cook’s longtime assistant coach Bob Denny. Terre Haute South has to replace about half of its lineup too. And although West Vigo is blessed with a great turnout and a lot of returnees, optimism there is tempered by the Vikings’ missing No. 1 player, who was expected back.
If all this sounds like bad news, it may not be. More than 100 girls are playing at the four schools — South has approximately 40 — so interest in the sport may never have been higher. Foundations may be in place at all four schools for future success.
And here’s a prediction that isn’t too dangerous: the April 19 meeting between North and South on the Braves’ court will be extremely well attended — because it’s practically the only time either team is in town. North has just three home matches, South four, plus its own tournament.
Here are some names to watch for.
Northview — Goff isn’t shy about calling this a rebuilding year for her Knights, because there isn’t likely to be a single player in the same spot they were last year.
Three of the few returnees, all of whom were doubles players a year ago, seem to have locked up the singles positions: junior Haley Leach, senior Trisha Cox and junior Nicole Linton.
Two more seniors, Jenna Smith and Kelsey Oehler, will share captain’s honors with Cox and may get the call at No. 1 doubles. A large group of freshmen seem to be led by Kaysia Reberger, who could be on the No. 2 doubles team by the season opener April 9 against Plainfield, and first-year player Hannah Minor, who is currently the top junior varsity player.
That lineup could fluctuate, of course, because challenge matches have been spirited and a lot of the newcomers are very close in ability.
“I have a lot of hard workers, probably the most dedicated team I’ve had,” Goff said. “There’s a lot of potential, but we have a lot of work to do.”
Terre Haute North — Farmer joked recently that he’s at least learned the first names of the girls on his team. Where most of them are going to play is still up for grabs.
Junior Anna Potter can probably be penciled in at No. 1 singles, however, after playing No. 2 last year behind her sister Sarah (now playing at Marian University). Morgan Cook, another junior, played No. 3 singles for last year’s regional champions and might also slide up one position.
Sophomore Laura Mascari was actually unbeaten in varsity competition last year too, but her time at either No. 3 singles or No. 2 doubles was limited by injuries. And that’s the extent of the Patriot experience.
“We lost five of our starting seven … and we’re on the road all season,” Farmer noted. “But there’s lots of opportunity [for girls to earn playing time].”
Players farthest up the ladder in trying to earn that playing time include, in no particular order, seniors Kim Zigler and Lynsey Stoick; junior Rosemary Weber; sophomores Carmen Nichols and Brittney Hochhalter; and freshmen Olivia Caldwell and Caroline Potter.
North opens April 10 at West Vigo, the start of something like eight matches in eight days. Home opener is April 12 against Sullivan.
“There’s a big group of freshmen, some of them close to the top seven,” Farmer said. “There’s some talent, but we’ve got a lot of work to do.”
Terre Haute South — Coach Bill Blankenbaker has a returning No. 1 player in senior Maddie Kesler, the last remaining player from the Braves’ most recent trip to the state finals.
Three of the four regular doubles players from last season — senior Madison Manning, junior Ashley Huh and sophomore Nicole Howe — are the rest of the Braves’ varsity experience, and Howe is expected to be this year’s No. 2 singles player.
Others mentioned by Blankenbaker as potential varsity contributors this spring include junior Miranda Camp, freshman Shivani Purohit, junior Tabitha Fagg, freshman Jordan Davis and sophomore Vanessa Lauby.
The Braves open April 9 at Bloomington South, and by that time Blankenbaker feels he’ll have a lineup he’ll enjoy.
“Everybody is really hitting right now,” he said, “and in two or three more weeks we should get a lot better.”
Preseason practices have caused the veteran coach to re-evaluate his team’s prospects, he admitted.
“At one time I thought we’d be down,” Blankenbaker said, “but we have some good prospects. We just have to get our doubles [teams] to gel.”
West Vigo — Finding someone to take the No. 1 singles position might be a challenge for coach Doug Tilford, whose team was “next to last” in the Western Indiana Conference last year, he said.
But an increase of more than 50 percent in participation — 22 players, compared to 14 a year ago — and the fact that several of those 22 have experience, might signal a chance for improvement for the Vikings.
The team has just four seniors, three of whom — Leah Ross, Allyson Walters and Abby Williams — were regular doubles players a year ago. Emma Creekbaum is a senior who is a first-year player.
Junior Kaylen Cheesman played either No. 2 or No. 3 singles last year, while sophomores Michaela Rollings and Delanee Hurst got some varsity experience playing doubles. Junior Sydney Brown and sophomores Maddie Riley and Kaitlyn Benefiel are in the mix after playing junior varsity tennis last year, and junior exchange student Marcela Mota also has a chance to contribute.
The varsity prospects may not stop with those players either. “There are some freshmen who could surprise us,” Tilford said.
Tilford is excited about the numbers too.
“We’re getting more kids interested [in tennis], and we hope to get some of them involved with our winter league,” he said.