CHILLICOTHE – Contrary to professional sports — where trades and free agent signings can be completed to avoid having an inexperienced team — high school coaches don’t have that luxury. They must work with the players they are given.
Some years, roster changes might be little with a strong cast of returning lettermen. Other years, a large group of seniors have graduated and a coach goes from fine-tuning the more intricate details of the game to taking a step back and teaching the fundamentals of the game.
Chillicothe’s tennis coach is handling a younger team this season, Unioto’s coach still is trying to build the tennis program and Waverly has reloaded and is shooting for its fourth consecutive Southern Ohio Conference title.
The Cavaliers, who finished 15-4 overall and won the South Central Ohio League title in 2013, graduated some key players from 2013 and will have many sophomores who will be expected to start after playing tennis competitively for the first time in their careers.
“It will be a rebuilding year. I only have three with varsity experience and several of the girls who are sophomores, last year was their first year,” Chillicothe coach Janet Disbennett said. “We’re not as strong as we were last year. I think we’ll be OK in the league.”
Chillicothe was led in 2013 by Taylor Sprouse, but the junior moved to Kentucky. Ellen Schmidt and Stacey Lapurga also graduated from the team. The key returner will be Jera Copley, and newcomers Brittany Harper and sophomore Amiel Shearer should make an impact. Shearer joins the team after playing her freshman year in Illinois.
“They all want to get better as they season goes on, and they definitely will have that opportunity as we have 23 matches this season,” Disbennett said.
Although she has many new starters, Disbennett said the goal is to repeat as SCOL champions or at least finish in the top half of the league.
The Shermans only won one match in 2013, but coach Aaron Koch has seven returnees and is hopeful for more success this season. Of the seven back, Koch said Macey Sprague and Megan Hilton should be leaders as they make tennis a year-round sport.
Kassidee Lechner is playing tennis for the first time in her final year at Unioto. Koch said she has improved greatly and is his No. 2 singles player.
Koch said part of the difficulty in attracting students to play tennis is Unioto is an independent in the sport, so there is no conference title to contend for.
“We want to win 50 percent of our matches,” Koch said. “We want somebody to advance to districts or the state tournament. That’s always a goal.”
The Tigers are on the other side of the side of the spectrum. In addition to three girls with some varsity experience, Waverly has four players with extensive varsity time: seniors Sheridan McLean and Bailey Patrick and juniors Sarah Wilburn and Alex Murdock.
Tigers coach Kim Swepston also has four first-year players who she is sure also will see time this season.
Although flush with players who are familiar with the game, Swepston said the team is learning how to replace the leadership of Madison Patrick, who graduated in 2013.
Waverly’s goals are clear: getting another SOC crown.
“We’ve won the league the last three years in a row and we should be in good position to do so again,” Swepston said. “We have a very good shot of winning the league again this year. We’re solid.”