Every year there’s a departure and influx of tennis players. Like any high school sport, it’s cyclical in nature.
Region 9 girls’ tennis has its fair share of experienced players such as Pine View’s Hattie Erekson, Desert Hills’ Alani Plumb and Snow Canyon’s Brielle Nielsen at No. 1 singles. But in a spin from years past, the region has an abundance of freshmen who are grabbing varsity spots for themselves.
Desert Hills’ Morgan “Mo” Behymer, Pine View’s Brielle Callahan, Snow Canyon’s Shayli Habibian and Dixie’s Ashley Kezos and Kalli Beckstrom are part of the new wave of young talent making a name for itself.
Coaches say there’s usually a decent amount of freshmen on tennis teams each year, but the amount of freshmen claiming top spots in the varsity rotation this year is new.
“I don’t think there’s been as many freshmen playing first and second singles and first doubles as there has been this year,” said Dixie coach Eric Christensen, who’s been coaching in the region for more than 10 years.
Callahan, the Panthers’ No. 2 singles player, is undefeated in region play through the first five weeks. Behymer, Desert Hills’ No. 2 singles player, has just one loss, and that’s against Callahan.
Kezos and Shabibian are also the No. 2 singles players at Dixie and Snow Canyon, respectively.
Habibian is an only child, and like some of the freshmen in Region 9, she doesn’t come from a tennis family.
Her father and uncle are wrestlers but encouraged her along with tennis once she took up the sport.
“I didn’t think I was going to make second singles my freshman year, but hey,” Habibian said.
Behymer’s family isn’t big on tennis, either. They’re all about gymnastics and dance.
The story from Behymer’s mother, Nancy, is that Mo suffered a foot injury when she was younger and a doctor recommended Mo take up a sport that involved wearing shoes.
And so Mo chose tennis. She may appear small, but she wields a strong serve and a powerful forehand that have helped her dismantle opponents this season.
“Well, it’s really nice because I’m also left-handed and so it’s just really fun cause I think I have that advantage,” Mo said.
Behymer’s been the solid constant in a Desert Hills lineup that’s changed so many times it makes the Cleveland Browns’ quarterback situation appear stable, which is a lot to ask for a freshman on any varsity team. In fact, youth may be a benefit.
“I don’t think they know the pressure they should be under, really,” Christensen said of the region’s freshmen.
Dixie’s Ashley Kezos waited until the night before the first tennis practice this season before choosing whether to play tennis, or join her sister Kourtney on the soccer team.
Now, she’s the No. 2 singles player for the Flyers.
Callahan may be the only one whose family has an extensive tennis background.
Her brother and parents all play, and so the decision to play tennis for her wasn’t difficult. Callahan is nicknamed “Scrappy Doo” by Pine View head coach Colin Brown.
That’s because, well, she’s scrappy and frustrating to opponents. Callahan can hit the ball back time and again, and coaches say that freshmen, whether boy or girl, can get frustrated easily.
So what’s the reason for the influx of good freshmen players in the region? There are a couple of explanations.
One is that it was easier to make the team this year since nearly every region school graduated multiple seniors.
“When you think of who we lost (in Region 9), we lost some really good state talent that played No. 1 positions for four years running while they were in school,” Hurricane coach Mark Manuele said.
Desert Hills (Madz Eames and Olivia Shakespeare) and Snow Canyon (Franchesa Ecklund and Lullaby Dalton) both graduated two of their top three singles players from last year, Pine View graduated a singles and a doubles player (Lily Hemenway and Paige Stout) and Dixie’s No. 1 doubles team from last year (Kelli Stovall and Jaylee Watson) also graduated.
Another reason for the freshmen surge is that it’s a product of tennis’s growing popularity. Manuele said this year’s girls team is the biggest he’s ever had in 10-plus years of coaching at the school. Other coaches have echoed Manuele in saying that tennis at the high school level has never been as popular as it is now.
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