LH tennis program gears up for spring

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By Lance Catchings

After the unprecedented season the Liberty Hill tennis team had last fall, the program is even more excited to get the spring season underway. Head Coach Phillip Dodd said the program has lots of plans for this season, but first wanted to give thanks for some help from the community.

“We recently had a tennis fundraiser and received donations from the community,” Dodd said. “We raised almost $6,500, which will go a long way to help our program. We will be able to get some much-needed ball machines, and it will also fund our overnight trip to the Corpus Christi tennis tournament. The kids and the coaching staff are appreciative to all the parents and donors who helped to make these things possible for us.”

The ball machine may seem insignificant, but can be a vital piece of equipment for a growing tennis program.

“Those machines will add another person on the court to feed balls to our players during practice without having an actual body there,” Dodd said. “The ball machine will help our players get more repetitions, which is important for success. Ball machines help improve skills a lot.”

Dodd and his players opened spring practice Tuesday under sunny skies, but the hard work is just beginning. Spring tennis differs from fall tennis in that it is more individualized, whereas fall tennis tournaments are scored by team.

“Many of our players are excited and already asking what they will be playing: singles, doubles or mixed this spring,” Dodd said. “For my seniors, I try to pick something that they will have a good shot to advance as far as they can. With the underclassmen, I will mix them up until about a month before district play and see which events I can get the most kids out to Regionals or State. I use the spring season to get ready for the fall.”

Dodd has three seniors on his roster that have made a State appearance. Henry Madison, Gunnar Ortega and Kennedy Coleman all hope to end their Liberty Hill careers at the top with another appearance at the State Tournament.

“Henry Madison has been to state in singles,” Dodd said. “Gunnar Ortega and Kennedy Coleman have been to state in mixed doubles, and they will probably play mixed again. Henry has a tougher road because of our region. I may play him in singles or may mix it up some. If we win our region, we can win a State Championship, because we have the best team in our region.”

The fall tennis season was busier than it had been in the past, and spring looks to be more of the same because of Dodd’s commitment to getting the Panthers in as many tournaments as possible. Liberty Hill will travel to some large tournaments to get the most bang for their buck.

“We are playing a full eight tournaments this season, and they will be tough,” Dodd said. “We are going to Corpus Christi, Brownwood, San Marcos, Bastrop and a few others that some of our players have not been to before. I like going to two-day tournaments where you are guaranteed at least five matches. When we travel to Corpus Christi, we will be guaranteed five matches, and most of the schools are 5A and 6A, and it will be the same thing in San Marcos. Even if we lose, we are getting the matches, which is what we want. That format, compared to some in Central Texas where if you win one then lose, you’re out, are better for us. Some of our kids played 40 matches in the fall and now they will turn around and play another 40 to 50 matches this spring. That is how you become better.”

Since Dodd plans on putting different players in different events, spring practices will mirror the events each player will be participating in for that week.

“In the spring as we move the kids around each week, they will focus on the event for that week,” he said. “If they are playing singles one week, that will be their focus in practice. If the next week they are playing doubles, then that week they will focus on doubles play. Workouts are about the same as they were in the fall, because I like to keep things consistent. We are setting the bar high this spring, so it will be a lot of work.”

Liberty Hill will host three tennis tournaments this spring, as well.

“We have a junior varsity tournament Feb. 21, a varsity Feb. 22 and a varsity tournament March 29,” Dodd said. “We have some good teams coming for that tournament, so it will be big for Liberty Hill tennis.”

As more parents and players take interest in tennis, Dodd encourages them to come out and be a part of a great sport.

“We want kids and parents to know we are developing our program just like any other athletic program at Liberty Hill,” Dodd said. “It is serious, and the kids will need to be committed to it most of the time. We do share a few athletes right now, but once get to 5A, if we want to be elite, we will need kids playing tennis 12 months out of the year. It is a great sport, but it takes a lot of time if you want to be good at it. Our football program puts the time in all year long and it pays off for them. We need to have the same mentality.”

The freshman tennis team will open the season Jan. 22, and the varsity will open spring play Jan. 25 in Bastrop.

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