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Boys, girls tennis teams return experience, drive to succeed

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By Kristin Beck

The Carroll County tennis program continues to grow under the tutelage of sixth-year head coach Juan Fernandez. Fernandez began coaching the boys and became the girls coach last season.

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Despite losing the team’s No. 1 and 2 singles players, the Panthers still return a number of experienced players. “We don’t have a Sergio (Pascual) that makes the whole team look good, but the level overall is picking up more and more,” Fernandez said. As the team’s No. 1 singles player last season, Pascual advanced to the state tournament and signed with Thomas More College to play tennis.

Taking over the top spot will be junior Joe Gemmer, who has been with the team four or five years.

“He came along in doubles and he came this year and he asked to play singles, that’s where his heart is, and I said, ‘Let’s go for it,’” Fernandez said. The head coach said Gemmer has definitely worked hard and improved a lot over the summer.

An up-and-comer on the team is junior Noah Abercrombie, who played his first year of tennis last season. “He worked hard this summer,” Fernandez said. “Unbelievable change in Noah; (he’s) totally different.”

He said Abercrombie played some number three singles last season, but he is playing on a different level now. Fernandez said he would likely pair him with junior Dakota Corbin for No. 1 doubles to give Abercrombie more match experience, as well as experience playing on the net.

Brothers Gabe and Zeke Kates will play a combination of singles and doubles to start the season, but will ultimately play doubles together.

Fernandez said he has also been impressed with the hard work of Thomas Hill, Nick Aulbach and Bobby Perkins. He said he will have them play each other and see “who wants it most.”

Hill, a fifth-year player, is the team’s lone senior.

“Thomas is not the athletic type of person, but he came in in the beginning and had the desire to work,” Fernandez said. “He only plays during the tennis season, but from where he is athletically to where he is becoming, I’m amazed because he has a really good touch. … (He has worked) hard from the beginning over the years, never complained. Whatever role I asked him to play, he just went out there and did it.”

The head coach also has been preparing the boys team for the future, with an eighth grader and sixth graders on the team. He also worked with a couple first and second graders in private lessons over the summer. “It takes a long time to build a program like this,” he said. “We don’t have the luxury like at South Oldham, where they are (playing) 24/7 and go to private places (to play), so we do what we can.”

Four seniors lead the Lady Panthers team: Lyndie Burns, Megan Harris, Pooja Patel and Andrea Williams. While the other three seniors have more varsity experience, Williams has been working hard at the mostly JV level. “She’s been really improving herself, working hard, so she’s (going to have) a chance to play No. 3 singles,” Fernandez said.

The team is balanced by a group of young talent, freshman Sarah McArter and eighth-graders Kendall Conley, Taylor Courtney, Jessie Dermon and Emilee Walker.

Fernandez said he needs to recruit two more young players to fill out the team for the future and then start back over with the middle school. He said he challenged the girls to start some kind of a summer program and to go out and ask younger children to pick up the sport. High school sports have become more specialized, and tennis isn’t a sport that can just be picked up immediately. “You really have to work very hard,” he said.

Burns and McArter will battle for the No. 1 and No. 2 singles spots, while Patel and Harris will play No. 1 doubles. Fernandez said Harris also asked to play some singles.

When asked what he learned after his first year of coaching girls, Fernandez laughed. “Mentally, they are so emotional, so emotional on everything,” he said. “I’ve tried to make them realize, ‘You’re not getting paid for this; You’re doing it because you like it, so enjoy. Don’t take it so serious.’ You work hard, so yes, you want to win like everyone else, but to me, they go out there and (if) the other team has to beat them, I’m happy. That means they played good.”

The terrible winter weather has definitely played a factor in the team’s training. “Fortunately, we do have the conditioning room,” he said. “It is big enough, a little bit bigger than a tennis court, but you don’t have any lines.”

Fernandez said they practiced in the conditioning center 3-4 times per week. He asked permission to put up a rope to serve as a net for the students-athletes, but focused mostly on perfecting their technique since they could not practice serving.

Both Carroll County tennis teams have increased their number of matches, with the boys at 22 and the girls at 18 without extra tournament matches. “We’ve never had a schedule that busy,” the head coach said, adding that they normally top out at about 12-13 matches. “(I wanted) to get more matches than anything else. I figure we’ve been working hard during the offseason on working on the strokes and techniques and movement and what they need more than anything now is matches. We’re working on building toward the future, and I figured the best way to do that was to get them more matches.”  

Home matches will be played at the Carroll County Park. Carroll County will be hosting the NCKC tournament April 20 at the county park.