Vikings serve notice: We’re contenders
Although Pat Fagen is putting one of his youngest tennis teams ever on the court, he doesn’t believe youth will be a disservice to his South Tahoe High girls’ program.
“I am very excited about this year’s team and feel it is the best girls team I have ever seen at the school,” said the ninth-year STHS coach, including the past three with the girls’ team. “The girls have been working hard, practicing every day at 7 a.m.”
Nine of the 15 girls battling for starting positions are freshmen or sophomores. But they are much older tennis players because of their participation in a local tennis academy.
“Almost all of the players have been in the Tahoe Tennis Academy program for several years and have developed a more solid foundation in both technique and strategy than the majority of players in the league,” said Fagen, who directs the academy along with assistant coach Justin Clark. “Many of the girls have also been playing in regional USTA tournaments over the summer which has given them more match play and confidence.”
Inexperience cost the Vikings last year in some close matches, but those tough defeats should serve the younger players well in future matches. Even so, the Vikings posted a 5-4 record and nearly qualified for zone a year ago.
“By the end of the year the girls gained a lot of competitive experience and realized that they could compete with the best in the league,” Fagen said.
With matches usually decided by what transpires on the doubles courts, Fagen has obviously placed his talent there in past years. However, three of the team’s best players will play singles this season.
Sophomore Masha Long, senior co-captain Lacey Leonard and freshman Casey Cole will handle the singles duties. Long is already being touted as one of the league’s best players.
“Masha is probably one of the top five players in the league,” Fagen said. “She competes regularly against adults and some of the guys and does quite well.
“If she keeps improving, especially in her technique and footwork, she has a good chance of going to state this year.”
Leonard and Cole should excel as well.
“Lacey has always had the athletic ability to achieve and was only held back by her inconsistency,” Fagen said. “This year she is putting it all together and will score a lot of wins for her team. “Casey (has) a unique style that gives her opponents problems. She should be able to contribute immediately and will only get better as her footwork and strokes improve.”
Junior Sydney Dufty and freshman Jade Coppel are impact singles players as well, according to Fagen.
A solid, balanced core of players are competing for doubles positions.
According to Fagen, sophomore Lauren Sannazzaro and freshman Cierra Rawlings have been the most consistent team during the preseason.
“Lauren was our most improved player last season and has continued to improve and work hard all summer,” Fagen said. “Cierra is very consistent and experienced for a freshman having been in the academy program for five years.
“As a team, they play strategically well together and make few mistakes, which makes them difficult to beat.”
Sophomores Jenny Schmedes and Andrea Killebrew are second- year varsity players who teamed together as freshman.
“Jenny is probably our second strongest player on the team overall behind Masha and gets better every day. Andrea has a lot of talent but missed a lot of court time over the summer. I expect her to get her game in form relatively quickly. If they both are on at the same time, they can beat most anybody.”
Junior co-captain Katie Killebrew is paired with freshman Chela Wahl, forming the other starting doubles team. Wahl teamed with Long to qualify for the zone tournament semifinals a year ago.
“Katie is a student of the game and a pleasure to work with and Chela is fine, young player and a real competitor that plays hard all the time. I am looking for them to do very well and pull some upsets,” Fagen said.
The Vikings’ doubles lineup also includes Sommer St. Michel and Lizzy Goldenberg, both of whom are seniors, and sophomore Ally Abicht and junior Mckensie Pimley.
“These four girls push the other teams hard in matches and will see a lot of playing time,” Fagen said.
The Vikings open their season against Spanish Springs today on their familiar courts at STHS. South Tahoe won’t have to wait long to test their improved skills. The Vikings will visit perennial powerhouse Reno on Thursday.
“Reno and Galena are always head and shoulders above the rest of the league, but I think we will be right there with them this year,” Fagen said. “The team is more mature and the girls only need to believe in their abilities to have a tremendous season.”
2004 STHS girls’ tennis schedule
Aug. 31 SPANISH SPRINGS
Sept. 2 At Reno
Sept. 7 N. VALLEYS
Sept. 14 At Hug
Sept. 16 At Sparks
Sept. 21 NORTH TAHOE
Sept. 28 At Carson
Sept. 30 DOUGLAS
Oct. 5 WOOSTER
Oct. 9 Regional tourney
Oct. 21 State tourney
All matches at 3:30 p.m. Home matches are in ALL CAPS
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