Alta tennis team has a strong yearDec 02, 2016 03:07PM ● By Billy Swartzfager
By Billy Swartzfager | [email protected]
The girls tennis team at Alta High School just wrapped up a strong 2016 season. This year’s group was made up of only 17 girls, a much smaller group than most schools have to work with, but the coach, Lori Sperry, used the small numbers as an opportunity to work with all of the girls one on one.
“The coaches are able to pay closer attention and tailor our practices for specific needs,” Sperry said.
The team started practice together late in the summer and worked hard to eventually finish the season tied for fourth place in the state’s 4A tournament. The Hawks finished fourth in their region as well behind Timpview and Orem, who tied for second in the state, and Corner Canyon, who finished far below Alta and the other region 7 representatives in the final standings.
Alta’s team score was added to greatly by Emilee Astle, a junior, who won the state title for 1st singles. Astle also was a state champion as a sophomore. Astle beat Isabel Brockbank from Salem Hills in the first round, Katherine MacPhail from Judge in the second and second-ranked Anna Findley of Skyline to reach the finals. She beat another top ranked player, Sabrina Longson from Olympus, to hold onto her title as top tennis player of all the 4A high schools.
The Hawks were also championed by freshman Sarah Ovard, who made it all the way to the semifinal match in 2nd singles, racking up points for Alta along the way. She beat top-seeded Natalie Eyring of Bountiful in the opening round. Ovard then beat Abby Crandall of Maple Mountain, another higher ranked player to reach the semis. Ovard lost to Orem’s Callie Forsyth in that match.
Another Alta tennis player to compete in the state tournament was senior Emily Bithel in the 3rd singles division. Bithel lost in the opening round to top-ranked Elly Lloyd of Olympus, who eventually played in the final match. Alta’s doubles teams didn’t quite qualify to play in the state tournament, something Sperry hopes to combat in time for next season.
“Most of the girls will be playing all year round, and I feel if we play all year we have a definite shot at getting better,” the coach said.
Alta has a few approaches that seem to paying dividends for the team’s success. In addition to encouraging year-round play at tennis clubs and winter programs, the team has three coaches who focus on various aspects of the team’s needs. Candice Bitheol, the team’s fitness coach, works with the girls every day to enhance their stamina on the court, keeping them in the best possible shape for a deep run late in the year. Sperry and Krista Anderson work with the young ladies on the court, focusing on technique and mental toughness, while Karl Packer works on logistics, getting the team the various things they need to see their goals pursued and achieved throughout the year.
Having a small young team is seen as a benefit by Sperry. She is able to get younger, less experienced players time on the court with those who have competed at higher levels before during practices. Many of her JV players have played alongside varsity players all season long, learning as they go, gaining skills they may not otherwise have an opportunity to get.
“We saw a large jump in our JV team this year,” said Sperry. “Those are the girls who will be taking over varsity spots in the future.”
The small team also has led to a closeness Sperry hasn’t seen very often in her coaching experiences. According to Sperry, her team is as unified as any she has ever been a part of.
“I don’t know if I have ever coached a group of such close friends,” Sperry said. “They are such an easily coached group.”