Kentlake learning on the fly | High School Tennis

Kentlake tennis lost to Kentwood on April 18. - Eric Mandel, The Reporter
Kentlake tennis lost to Kentwood on April 18.
— image credit: Eric Mandel, The Reporter

Young women in matching black T-shirts smiled across the net from one another on the Kentlake High School tennis courts April 18. There was plenty of “nice shot” calls and encouragement to one another.

But this wasn’t practice and the two sides were certainly not on the same team. On one end was the Falcons, a group of primarily newbies to the game who are learning the intricacies of the sport and to appreciate strong volleys back and forth. On the other, a fairly veteran squad from Kentwood with only one loss on the season, expecting to make a run in tournament play.

These matches had been foiled by nature four times this rainy spring. When the teams finally stood across from one another, Kentlake double’s team Shelby Thompson and Sarah Moen saw the Conks as one of the finest they’d encountered.

“Playing better people can be better for you, but it can be scary,” said Thompson, a junior, in her first year on varsity.

Kentlake tennis coach Barry Fredericks has done a lot of pep talks this year and could be heard on more than one occasion trying to lift the spirits of his young learners. He says things such as, “I have confidence in you, just have confidence in yourself.”

Seven of the Falcons’ eight varsity players graduated in 2013, meaning the season has been more about teaching than scoreboard watching.

“It’s different,” Fredericks said. “It’s pretty much square one. Hopefully they’re not too discouraged by the scores.”

While the wins and losses haven’t been great, the ideals of high school sports are not lost on the coach.

“I believe tennis is a life sport,” Fredericks said. “I’m giving them fundamentals.”

Meanwhile, Kentwood sits near the top of the SPSL 4A North standings, jumping out to a 4-1 conference record. Kentwood tennis coach Ingrid Bakke said the Conquerors beat Kentridge for the first time in four years and also took down Bellarmine Prep in route to its 4-1 start.

“We’re trying to find not so many highs and lows, but kind of that consistency,” Bakke said.

Every school goes through rebuilding years and Fredericks said the Falcons have shuffled a number of kids in the lineup from JV. Bakke said she doesn’t feel sorry for Fredricks and the Kentlake crew, as one of her top players sprained an ankle, which has forced them to bring up younger players sooner than anticipated. For both teams, the key is to improve every match.

“You kind of look for small victories and improvements,” Fredericks said.

Moen, who was participating in her first ever varsity match, said even losses are worthwhile.

“Even though it’s individual the team is still fun,” she said.

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