Kinker to coach Southridge girls tennis

Photo by Corey Stolzenbach/The Herald
Senior Abby Kerkhoff figures to fit somewhere into Southridge's doubles lineup this girls tennis season. 

By COREY STOLZENBACH
sports@dcherald.com

HUNTINGBURG - Southridge boys tennis coach Paul Kinker is stepping in this spring to coach the Raider girls after Rhonda Diekhoff decided to retire from coaching, but the transition isn't all that bad.

"I'd been Rhonda's assistant for the last seven years, Kinker said. "I've seen most of these girls - at least the juniors and seniors, a little bit of the sophomores last year because we did conditioning."

However, Southridge also fields a lot of players who don't have varsity experience. Many of the team's main pieces from 2019 have since graduated. The Raiders are without No. 1 singles player Evie Sherer and also graduated Elizabeth Fleck, who spent time at the No. 3 singles. Audra Hochgesang and Camille Fleming also had time in the No. 1 doubles pair in 2019 before the latter went down to an injury.

Still, Southridge does have some girls from its lineup two years ago who are back for the 2021 campaign. Junior Olivia Durcholz played in the No. 2 singles spot as a freshman, and fellow junior Jordan Biehl teamed with Hochgesang at No. 1 doubles. Senior Gabbie Werner has experience at No. 2 doubles, and junior Kelby LaRoche has played No. 3 singles before.

The graduation of much of the 2019 lineup and previous experience at No. 2 singles makes the likely No. 1 singles player for Southridge this spring.

"I think she's been practicing hard in the offseason," Kinker said of Durcholz. "She's been working on her game, along with her sister who's a freshman this year, Kate. But I think she needs to be ready. She's had enough experience, and I think she'll step in quite nicely. Obviously, the number one spot at singles is going to be tough in our conference, but I think she'll work through it. I think she'll do quite nicely this year."

The complicated part, however, is finding out who's going to comprise the rest of the singles lineup for Southridge. Many of the team's upperclassmen are doubles players, such as Werner, Biehl and senior Abby Kerkhoff. When Kinker spoke to the Herald on March 4, he named juniors Olivia Lopez and Emily Roby as candidates to be singles players, but he was still trying to figure things out heading into practice on Tuesday. Kinker told the Herald on that Kate was playing well in her challenge matches - making her a singles candidate, too.

He's seen a lot out of Roby and Werner, whom he knows because they serve as Southridge's managers on the boys side.

"I know a little more of how they can hit and how they can play, and they're really developing that way," he said.

Kinker feels all of his upperclassmen could intertwine in doubles play, such as Werner and Kerkhoff, who are good friends with each other off the court, and he mentioned LaRoche as a doubles candidate on Tuesday. Biehl having that doubles experience as a freshman is huge, and Kinker noted that she has gotten stronger since that point. He told the Herald that Biehl was definitely a front-runner to play No. 1 doubles but who she partners with could be Werner, Kerkhoff or Roby.

He's been around the game for a long time, and he believes it will take much of the season to catch his players up to speed because of all that goes on during the first two weeks in practice and also the amount of matches Southridge will play in once competition starts.

However, Kinker is still optimistic that the Raiders will be stronger at the end of the season than they are at the beginning of it.

Southridge is set to open its season April 1 at Pocket Athletic Conference rival Mount Vernon.




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