Alta tennis making a run for state titleOct 04, 2018 03:01PM ● By Jana Klopsch
Junior Sarah Ovard is playing in the number three singles slot for Alta this season. Ovard has been on the varsity team for three years. (Ron Bevan/City Journals)
By Ron Bevan | [email protected]
Midway through the girls tennis season, it is already obvious the Alta Hawks will be a main player in the state title landscape.
No longer just a one-trick pony — relying on superstar singles player Emilee Astle — the Hawks are firing on all cylinders. Alta has an undefeated record which includes impressive victories over perennial tennis powerhouses Brighton and Timpview.
“We are having a lot of fun this year and it shows,” Alta coach Kallie Rice said. “The girls have a good work ethic and all of them worked hard during the offseason.”
The extra work is paying dividends for the Alta program that has lived in Brighton’s shadow for years. Alta shut out the Bengals 5-0 in the first meeting of the two teams this season, then handed Timpview a 3-2 loss. Scoring in team tennis is done simply on the winners of the three singles players and the two doubles teams.
“It was the first time Alta has beaten Timpview,” Rice said.
Leading the charge for Alta are the three singles players: Astle, Brinley Horton and Sarah Ovard. The trio is undefeated in team play this year, helping to secure the team’s unblemished record.
Astle is perhaps the most lethal tennis player to ever put on an Alta uniform. The 6'0" senior has three No. 1 singles state titles under her belt already, and hopes to add a fourth this season.
“It seems like there is more pressure on me this year to get the title, but that just makes me work harder and concentrate more fully each match,” Astle said. “This has been my goal for all of high school and I hope I can pull it off.”
Astle, who hasn’t lost a set, let alone a match, in nearly three years, doesn’t rest on her reputation when she enters a match.
“I use the warmup time to figure out the weaknesses and strengths of my opponent and come up with a game plan to put my strengths to their weaknesses and find a way to win,” Astle said. “I am tall with a long wingspan, so I have good leverage on my serve and my volleys.”
“Astle has been the same forever — super confident, competitive, but very classy on the court,” said Rice. “Part of what makes her amazing and so highly recruited by so many schools is her talent, but also her modesty. She doesn’t carry herself as being better than everyone else. She is concerned about the rest of the team and wants them to have a great season.”
Astle has committed to taking her game to BYU next year.
Battling behind Astle is Horton and Ovard. Horton sits in the No. 2 singles slot, while Ovard is the No. 3 singles. Both players are juniors this season. Both made it to state last year, but at that time Ovard was in the No. 2 slot and Horton plays No. 3 singles.
“Both girls are very close in their abilities,” Rice said. “Both are super aggressive, very strategic and consistent in their play. They step on the court thinking about what they are going to do. They want to know exactly how to win a point.”
Horton and Ovard have both been on the varsity squad since their freshmen year and, along with Astle, are using their experience to help the rest of the team become a well-oiled machine.
“I feel like our entire team is really united together and care about each other,” Horton said. “If you have a well put-together team you are going to play very good tennis.”
While the singles players have been set all season, the doubles teams have been a work in progress as Rice tries to find the right combination of players. Three seniors, Nikole Tolly, Katie Winegar and Sophie Emery, have been filling three of the four slots, juggling around between No. 1 and No. 2 doubles teams. The fourth position has been shared by senior Savannah Beck and freshmen Rebecca Russell and Grace Anthony.
“We have changed the doubles teams around a few times,” Rice said. “The three seniors have been there all season. We are still trying to figure out the best combination to make it to state.”
Alta is relying on the experience of this year’s squad to carry them forward. The Hawks lost only two players from last year’s team to graduation, and only one of them played varsity. This year Alta has seven seniors, and two others with at least two years of experience at the varsity level.
“The girls realize what it takes to win the tough matches,” Rice said.
“We have all worked very hard to get to this spot,” added Ovard.