Tennis team will continue to work toward goals

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By Scott Akanewich

Just because the Liberty Hill tennis squad wrapped up its season recently doesn’t mean they’re done.

On the contrary, the close of the fall season simply signals the beginning of a new one.

“As long as the weather’s beautiful, we’re going to be out here hitting tennis balls,” said head Coach Philip Dodd.

So, there they all were, varsity and junior varsity alike, hitting balls back and forth on the purple hard courts in anticipation of what lies ahead.

But, not before reflecting on what’s being left behind.

“We played really well against Fredericksburg,” said Dodd of his squad’s 17-4 playoff defeat at the hands of the defending Class 4A state champions. “We doubled the number of matches we won against them last season and I think we closed the gap on them some. Everybody was pleased with how we played.”

However, there was one element that let them down, he said.

“Their serves gave us trouble,” said Dodd. “But, we’re going to get better.”

According to Dodd, the best way to measure how far his team has progressed since he took over the program at the beginning of last year is how they perform against the bigger schools and also common opponents.

“The biggest gauge for us is at the state level,” said Dodd. “Against bigger schools, we’re a lot more competitive now.”

As far as individual improvement goes, he singled out seniors Ava Enstrom and Tyler Franklin for making the biggest gains.

“Ava definitely had the best improvement,” he said. “She started last season on the JV, but she’s been playing non-stop and has a will to win. As far as Tyler is concerned, he’s really gotten on the ball and more serious about the game.”

But, success wasn’t limited to just those two upperclassmen.

“Really, all our seniors stepped up,” said Dodd. “Nobody played tense or scared.”

Along those same lines, the Panthers felt like they belonged more regardless of who was across the net, he said.

“I think we’re no longer intimidated with the talent we have,” said Dodd. “Which bodes well for the spring season. We beat some players who went to state and if we play close to them, we have a chance.”

As far as what happens next for the Panthers, they will continue to drill every day for when spring tennis comes along, which features only individual play without team scores.

Meanwhile, the players will be expected to shoulder more of the responsibility for making sure they’re ready, said Dodd.

“A lot of our players take lessons,” he said. “Of course, we’ll keep doing stuff here during our athletic period, as well.”

With the emphasis these days on specialization and year-round training in a particular sport, Dodd said he likes to have his athletes to have some time away from the game.

“It’s certainly okay to have some down time in sports,” he said. “It’s a long year and in tennis, there’s no change of pace. Everyone needs a break.”

All that being said, though, Dodd said he has a good group that doesn’t necessarily need much of a break in the action.

“Most of all, our kids like to play,” he said.

On a given day at this time of the year, the Panthers’ workouts are still well-organized, focusing on all the different aspects of the game.

“We’ll do our warm-up, then work on volleys, overheads and ground strokes,” said Dodd. “After that, either our varsity or JV will go home and the other will continue.”

With the expected move up to Class 5A projected for next season, Dodd knows his program is in for a challenge, making the work they put in for the rest of this year that much more important.

“We’ll still be good,” he said. “But, we’ll be two steps behind the best teams as opposed to only one.”

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