Southridge tennis hoping for seasonMarch 24, 2020
By JONATHAN SAXON
HUNTINGBURG — Rhonda Diekhoff is getting used to the new normal.
The Southridge girls tennis coach said things aren’t as busy as they normally are this time of year because of the coronavirus. Last Monday was supposed to be the Raiders’ first official practice, but school closures have left the tennis players on their own to work out and stay in shape.
“We haven’t truly started,” said Diekhoff. “We have had some open courts and conditioning starting in February. Some of them were in other sports, so some of it’s been hit-or-miss. I can’t organize anything. I’m hoping a couple of them go out on their own.”
Still, Diekhoff is hopeful the team will get to have a season, even if it’s shortened. She’ll take what she can get to continue growing a team that returns all of its varsity players from last season.
“I felt pretty good considering it was a rebuild season for us,” she said. “The good thing about last year’s group is we didn’t graduate anybody, so we have everyone back. It’s going to be very competitive to get varsity spots.”
Diekhoff said all of the girls are very close to each other skill-wise, so it’s wide open for each of them to earn their respective varsity spots. Senior Evie Sherer was the No. 1 singles player last season. Sophomore Olivia Durcholz was at No. 2, and Diekhoff thinks both of them are close enough to call it a coin flip as to which player earns the No. 1 slot.
“It would be interesting to see,” said Diekhoff. “Evie has a very cool demeanor about her. Olivia struggled a little bit with the mental side of tennis last year. (She) would let things upset her, and you could see it in her play. But (she’s) a year older, and she played some out of season. It’ll be interesting to see how her and Evie have come along since last season.”
Senior Elizabeth Fleck played most of last season at No. 3 singles, and Diekhoff called her a steady player who can outlast her opponent which a match turns into a grinder.
“One of our matches was over three hours,” said Diekhoff. “Hard to wear her out. She’s just a good person for that third spot.”
Seniors Audra Hochgesang and Camille Fleming were originally paired together at No. 1 doubles last year, but sophomore Jordan Biehl replaced Fleming after she suffered a knee injury that required surgery. Hochgesang and Biehl wound up advancing to the individual regional sectional last season, but Diekhoff could use any combination of the three girls for the No. 1 doubles team. Junior Gabbie Werner was the mainstay at No. 2 doubles, and she could be paired with either senior Anna Kappner or sophomore Kelby LaRoche, who also played at No. 3 singles a bit last year.
Diekhoff’s big-picture goal is to get the girls more comfortable playing at the net. She said most of the team likes to live on the baseline and return what’s fired at them, but she wants the Raiders to play more aggressive and force the action at the net this season.
“I’m hoping to get them comfortable coming into the net,” she said. “They aren’t scared of the net, they’re just not real comfortable coming up to it. I want them to be able to play against someone who comes to the net. On the mental side, I’m hoping they stay focused and not let little things get to them.”
Diekhoff also wants the doubles teams to move better as a pair so they don’t leave openings that other teams can exploit.
“Sometimes one will get displaced off to the side of the court,” she said. “I want the other person to immediately realize they need to shift a little bit and not leave a big gap in the middle.”
Above all, Diekhoff wants the girls to have fun this season. She doesn’t believe it serves the best interest of the team if she turns tennis into a chore. Instead, Diekhoff seeks to create an atmosphere where the girls look forward to picking up their racquets.
“I want it to be an enjoyable part of their life,” she said. “With the way things are now with the virus, everybody is pretty tense about things. I’d just like to have a relaxed environment where they want to work and play hard because they’re having fun with it.”
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