The rivalry match. Ask any Kaneland Tennis player (even the new ones) who the rivalry school is, and they’ll tell you it’s Sycamore. I’m pretty sure if you ask any Sycamore player (even the new ones) who the rivalry match is…they’ll tell you it’s Kaneland. Two proud programs with histories of talented players and histories of successful seasons. Kaneland vs. Sycamore Tennis. Coaches and players over many years enjoying the rivalry. Coaches and players circling the date on the calendar. Today was the day. Rivalry Day.
But this is a strange year. Of the 16 girls that played against each other in last year’s contest (decided once again by only one match), 9 of them graduated. Only Piper Schrepferman played in the same position as last year. Over the years, we’ve played a lot of matches with Sycamore where we knew exactly who was playing in what position and so did they. And having that rivalry match against opponents that you know, have played before, and know what you need to do at your best to win the match really adds a special moment to the season, whether you win or lose. And we’ve won…and we’ve lost.
Today’s match was filled with girls that now hold new positions in the lineup and want to continue the tradition. That much was obvious. There was a lot of talent out on the courts today and both coaches could see the struggles with their new positions and the nerves of the moment. Girls learning that at high-level spots in the lineup, there’s significantly less room for error. Girls learning to play in the big moments. Girls learning from hitting great winners. Girls learning from mistakes. Girls competing during all of that against their rival school. This is a real moment for them every season.
Kaneland got the better of the match today on the back of a strong showing from singles players Piper Schrepferman and Evie Taylor. Maddy Rizzuto also had another solid match at #3 doubles and I think I am most proud today of her partner Leanne Steenwyk. Leanne started out the match hitting tons of unforced errors. She was simply trying too hard. Swinging harder than she needed to. Going for too much every swing. At the fence, we simply talked about dialing it in. I believe my coaching genius moment for the day was saying, “This doesn’t look good. You’ve got to stop hitting the ball out of bounds.” I mean, it sounds like the stupidest thing you could say to a player. The next game, it was like Leanne took a deep breath, let it out, and let some kind of calm take over. Next thing I know, she’s delivering beautiful down the line passing shots and well-placed cross court shots as if she’d never missed one in her life. Volleys in the net just came that much easier to her.
Leanne Steenwyk, that was the turnaround performance of the season. Nicely done.
I have to say some strong words about our #1 doubles team. Ok, they didn’t win today. Sycamore won the match with strong play at the net and played into one of our weaknesses that we’re working on. But Sofia and Christel are starting to move in unison. They are both hitting some serious ground strokes that their opponents (for about a week and a half now) are having a hard time handling. They are getting so much sharper themselves at the net. Serves are going in more often than two weeks ago…with more pace and with spin. They are starting to talk to each other during points and after with confidence. They rally to the ball. They bounce back from tough points. We are only a couple of adjustments away from grabbing the reins of this highly touted position of Kaneland #1 doubles. Sofia and Christel, you are moments away from delivering the kind of matches you’re hoping to. Do not stop working. You’re.right.there.
And finally, a big congrats to Ally Mitchinson and Sarah Nguyen. They won their match today, a seriously contested match. They could not have done it without sustaining the level of play they gave throughout the match. Sure, there were plenty of mistakes. We hit to the girl in the net. We double-faulted. We missed easy overheads and put them into the net. But we also hit beautiful cross-court returns. We hustled and ran down tough shots to keep the point alive. And after we double-faulted, we got serves in, which is not easy to do. If we hadn’t, those girls from Sycamore definitely would have taken the match from us. Talking to them afterword, Ally and Sarah first focussed on all of the negatives. I don’t blame them because I know these girls. They will want to work on every one of those shots on Thursday at practice. But for me, on rivalry day, you got your second serve in when you needed to. You gave one more step than you thought you could and got the racket on the ball and put it back into play. You followed up a misplayed overhead with a winner. You made the adjustments…so you made me proud. Be frustrated if you want, I’m over here watching you learn with pride.
Rivalry day. An unusual one with many girls figuring out how gain the level of success they’re looking for in their spots in the lineup. But all doing it a little bit better today because of the respect we have for the talent on the other side of the net. Rivalry game. We got the better end of it tonight, but it’s never over. Until next time…
8-0, Kaneland. Whoop!