Not much should surprise Abby Athey at the varsity level.
Athey, one of four Newark seniors, is playing varsity for the third year and at No. 1 singles for the second. The Wildcats’ top player picked up her first win today with a victory against Watkins Memorial’s Brandi Reed.
“I feel more confident because my hits are harder,” Athey said. “I feel like I will win more matches being where I am right now. I feel comfortable with how I am playing. It puts a lot of pressure on the first singles because they are looking up to you and seeing how you will do.”
The sport goes in cycles with graduation, and Newark suffered through some growing pains in 2012 after an impressive 2011. The Wildcats should be back on their way up.
Nikala Curliss — who is playing No. 2 singles — and Rachel Gough, who is at No. 3 — are in their second year of varsity. Emily Mettille — the fourth senior — is playing No. 1 doubles with junior Katianna Evans. Sophomores Lydia King and Madison Stotts are playing No. 2 doubles.
“I started on varsity last year,” Curliss said. “The year before that I worked really hard, but I only made it to first JV. I played second singles (last year). I like it a lot better than doubles because it is just me. If I mess up, then it is just my fault.”
Curliss is a perfect illustration for coach Rob Hays. He also has six freshmen among his 10 reserve players, and he hopes they eventually can fight for varsity spots.
“That is why I like having the high numbers because it leads to competition,” Hays said. “We have 17 girls that want to get better and keep moving up the lineup. If you only have eight girls or so, there is really no push to get better.”
The season ends in early October, but Newark’s work will not be done. Hays will have open courts the rest of the fall until the weather turns, and summer conditioning will begin in June.
“That is how you improve,” Hays said. “Tennis is such a short season that you improve in the offseason. Yeah, you can kind of get a tiny bit better during the short season. But you have to make your big strides by playing in the winter and summer. If you don’t, you pretty much kill yourself before the season even starts.”
For the Wildcats to compete against the powerful programs in the Ohio Capital Conference-Ohio Division, Hays needs tennis to become more than a two-month sport. Newark players are starting to understand that.
Many of the more experienced players have taken to coaching. With no assistant, Hays often has to rely on his players to correct each other.
“It is what we have been doing so far,” Hays said. “They do a good job of giving advice whenever possible. It is hard with just me and 17 girls to try to catch everything.”
The Wildcats had a tough loss Tuesday against Pickerington North, but the Wildcats had opportunities to rebound this week against Watkins today and Tri-Valley on Thursday.
That is part of the learning process. A younger Athey would not have shaken off a loss so quickly, and her teammates are following suit.
“Sometimes, I do get aggravated,” Athey said. “I still try to not let them get in my head. At times, I just I have to say: ‘Calm down. I can do this.’ I get myself to try harder, so I don’t let them intimidate me that much.”