High school tennis has returned to Gainesville and while there have been some growing pains, the Leopards are thriving.
The athletes are grasping the intricacies of the sport and holding their own in a very tough district.
New head coach Keitric Washington said his team has immersed itself in learning the game and showed a progressive passion as the season went along.
“It’s been awesome with it being their first time playing team tennis,” Washington said. “There were some juniors that hadn’t played since junior high and I was pleasantly surprised they even had rackets. Tennis is something you have to constantly work on. From where they began the year to where they ended, there has been a lot of growth. They’re a lot more intense and they get mad when something goes wrong.”
Washington said the competition the Leopards are enjoying will be key as they move into their spring season. The goal moving forward is developing that consistency from shot to shot, game to game and set to set.
“I’m highly competitive so it was tough to see them struggle, but I knew there would be a learning curve,” Washington said. “I still have those moments where I have to catch myself from being upset. This isn’t how it’s always going to be. It’s been a good learning experience for me and the kids as far as keeping our frustrations in check.”
The Leopards are in a district with Whitesboro, Anna and Melissa. Gainesville did not win a set off any of those teams, but Washington isn’t focused on the results. The process is the most important aspect right now.
“We did win some matches against Lake Worth and Greenville, but those three teams are good,” Washington said. “They didn’t lose a match in their first round of the playoffs last year. Tough is what makes you. Facing challenges makes you what you are and our kids have character and great work ethic.”
Sophomores Brianna Orduna and Michael Sharpe each were named honorable mention in district and Washington said it has been great to see their growth.
“This is Brianna’s first year and she’s shown a lot of improvement from the first practice,” Washington said. “Mike has gotten a compliment every match he’s played this year because he has played a lot of top players and seniors. If they keep working and improving, they can really enjoy their senior years. They are going to see some growth their junior years too. They have the attitude, hunger and the want to get better. That’s what you need.”
The Leopards will have their first playoff round on either Oct. 26 or Oct. 27, but the date and opponent has yet to be determined.
It will be the best of 19 matches that advances.
“They will get to see what it feels like,” Washington said. “Whether you win or you lose, you get that experience. They’ll get to see what they need to work on. I feel pretty optimistic and a lot of people didn’t know we would have team tennis. We’ll get through this COVID, I think our numbers will increase.”
Reach Patrick Hayslip at email@example.com or on Twitter at @PatrickHayslip