Tennis culture turning around in Rogers

Sports Reporter

by Eric Oslund

Sports Reporter

When the Rogers girls tennis team went into their match against Princeton on Monday, Sept. 11, they knew they were likely going to lose. The Royals are currently working on rebuilding their program, while Princeton’s tennis program is one of the best in the area.

Sami Stickler (left) and Emily Rubbelke (right) celebrate after getting a point in their match against Princeton. (Photo by Eric Oslund)

The one spot the Royals knew they had a shot at stealing a match was their No. 1 doubles pairing of Emily Rubbelke and Sami Stickler. They went into that match with a 7-0 record in No. 1 doubles, and after dropping the first set 6-4, they rebounded to take the second set 6-4. Everything came down to the third and final set, and with all other matches finished up, everyone came down to their court, either sitting on benches, or taking a spot on the next court over, anywhere they could to get a good spot to see the action.

It was close throughout, about as close as a doubles match could get, but when the final point was scored it was Princeton on top, winning 7-5 in the third-set tiebreaker.

A tough way to lose after battling so hard, but the doubles pairing wasn’t too upset. Even though they had a great season up to that point, they really seemed to turn a corner in that match.

“They’ve been working on a lot of advanced doubles concepts and struggling implementing them in matches, and they were able to implement them (Monday) against a good team,” head coach Geoff Basham said. “It’s a huge step forward for them.

Abigail Johnson worked as the Royals No. 1 singles player, despite being just a sophomore. (Photo by Eric Oslund)

“They’re working on being the most aggressive team on the court. There’s lots of different movements and called plays, and things of that nature that can be done that they’ve always been afraid to do. Then, all of a sudden it just clicked and they started doing them.”

It was a feeling that seemed to resonate throughout the Royals players. Despite falling to Princeton 7-0, there was a sense of optimism among them.

None of the girls gave up at any point in one of their matches. Even if they were down 40-love in a game, they continued to chase after every ball, battle back, and sometimes even come back and take the point. It was one of the best matches Basham has seen from his team, despite the lopsided loss, and he knows that will pay dividends as they start to head into a more favorable part of their schedule.

“Seeing how they were after last night, and I think they all knew and recognized how well they played, I think that having our worst loss of the season was actually the best thing because they know that from here going forward, it does get easier,” the head coach explained. “And if they play like that then wins will definitely come.”

It’s not always easy trying to rebuild a program, especially one filled with a lot of youth like the Royals are. There will be growing pains, and there will be losses, but the key thing is that the players keep pushing forward. And that’s part of what Basham is trying to do in Rogers.

Paetyn Levis is a co-captain on the Royals and one of just two seniors on the roster. (Photo by Eric Oslund)

Not only does he want to build up a winning culture in the girls tennis program, but one where his players persevere, only worry about what they can control, and keep fighting no matter the circumstances going on around them. And in that game against Princeton, he truly saw that starting to take shape.

“I’m rebuilding a culture and it’s not always going to be a winning culture, but it’s that positive attitude, and they’re really starting to show it,” he said. “Obviously it takes time, and you hear coaches all the time say, ‘Yeah, we’re rebuilding and we’re super young,’ but again, it’s not just that. We had 27 girls out for the team last year and this year we have 49. Tennis here is starting to really pick up and now it’s just getting the girls excited and keeping them excited. Knowing the wins will eventually come.”