Girls Tennis: Laying the groundwork
While Doug Toivonen and Drew Olinger were coaching the boys' tennis team in the spring, they were starting to build a rapport with the girls' tennis team.
"A couple of the girls were managers (for the boys) last year, so I knew them," Toivonen said. "And in summer tennis this year, I got a chance to know the girls that way, too."
With Toivonen and Olinger pulling co-head coach duties this fall, the Wingers look to make progress with a young squad mixed in with five seniors.
"The girls are working hard and they want to get better, but it's going to be a process," said Toivonen, who along with Olinger have replaced last year's head coach, Patty Otteson. "Tennis is one of those sports that you really have to put time into it and our girls are getting to that point. We got some young girls that have some skill, but they have to keep putting in time and keep raising their level of skill to a higher spot than they are now."
On Friday, with only three days of practice since fall sports began on Monday, the Wingers opened the season with a non-conference match against Ellsworth. The visiting Panthers managed to take two of three in doubles en route to a 4-3 road win.
Getting thrown into the fire so quickly is jarring, but the competition gives the coaches a better idea of what to coach the girls' team on.
"You can practice all you want, but at some point, you have to face another team," Toivonen said. "They're going to show your weaknesses and I also think for our girls, they find out what works for them and they can work on that. For some today, it's a confidence booster and for others, it's a wake-up."
The Wingers' top spots took a hit with the graduation of Emily Otteson, Anika Nybo, McKayla Muelken and Amy Jeranek leaving the No. 1 and 2 singles, and No. 1 doubles, vacant from a year ago.
In the match against Ellsworth Friday, freshman Chloe Struss took the top singles spot, losing to Ellsworth's Anna Olson 6-1, 6-2. Then at No. 2 singles, senior Hollie Fehrman beat Mattie Beck in a third-set super tiebreaker, 3-6, 6-0, 10-4.
The top doubles duo was the senior pairing of Maria Haley and Solveig Roth. The two dropped their opening match to Mady Paquet and Ginger Leonard, 7-5, 6-0.
After the season-opening match, Toivonen has some ideas of where to coach the girls up. He also got some help in the opening week from Red Wing graduate Ben Schaffer, who is helping as Olinger is on his honeymoon.
"Very similar to the boys, we just need to be more consistent," Toivonen said. "We'll play some really good points and then give up some points like a double fault or an easy volley that we don't hit. We just got to be more consistent and that's something that comes with time and hitting tennis balls."
On Friday, sophomore Graci Bettich got a 6-0, 6-0 win over Ali Peterson at No. 4 singles, and Mya Benway was pegged at the No. 3 singles spot. The remaining doubles were Megan Jeranek and Rachel Borgen at No. 2, and Olivia Johnson and Jenna Siewert at No. 3. Johnson and Siewert were 6-3, 6-4 victors over Ellsworth's Bri Flaherty and Lydia Cole.
"Today, as I'm watching, I'm trying to figure out what I can do to help them. Most of the girls that have been around, I'm trying to stay out of the way and letting them figure things out," Toivonen said. "Ben and I have been making some notes. We needed to have a match and have everyone stay on a court so we could walk around and watch everyone play to see the things they need to work on."
Things will take time. But the goal is to improve by year's end and, hopefully, set things up beyond the 2017 season.
"We know we're in a section that's dominated by Rochester schools. We'll try to be as competitive as we can and see if we can't find a way to win a couple matches," Toivonen said. "We'll try to get all the girls on the team, one through 28, to improve. At the end of the year, if those girls get the hunger to get better for next year, that's what our goal would be, along with finding a way for the seniors to be successful, too."