DON KETCHUM is a native of Phoenix. He was a sportswriter for The Arizona Republic/The Phoenix Gazette for nearly four decades. He covered high school sports on several occasions as well as the Arizona Diamondbacks, Arizona Cardinals and Arizona State sports. From 2008-14, he was a staff writer for, the web site of the Arizona Interscholastic Association.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Freshman tennis goal: Playing "a sport for life"

 The world of a high school freshman can be filled with uncertainty and anticipation.

Participating in athletics can provide the students with an opportunity to develop a comfort level as well as relationships that often can go beyond the particular institution.

Here at Xavier Prep, the prime example is the freshman tennis program run by varsity tennis coach Laurie Martin and her staff of assistant coaches.

The program has earned awards in the past for its no-cut approach.

There have been years when the turnout numbered close to 70 or 80, and this year, there are 74 players who have joined.

Xavier freshman tennis players work on their serves, top photo, gather to receive instruction from coaches, center, and take a well-deserved break, bottom (Photos by Sr. Lynn Winsor).

Martin said about a fourth of the players have some experience and the rest do not. She and her staff will be evaluating the skill levels and will choose two teams that will face other schools on a regular basis beginning this Wednesday (Sept. 18) against Queen Creek Casteel at the Stark Tennis Center for the “A” team and Sept. 26 for the “B” team at Chandler Basha. The remaining players will be in more of a learning mode and will be placed in color-coded groups that play each other.

“We have a nice group of girls and there is good potential out there,’’ Martin said. “They are fun to coach. There is so much to teach them.

“By the end of the season, we hope that they feel comfortable playing tennis and that they hopefully will play the game for the rest of their lives.’’

The main objective in the learning process at this level is for the players to “never get bored,’’ according to Martin, and skill-wise learn the ground strokes (often with softer tennis balls that travel at a slower pace), getting their serve in play and using a basic strategy.

“You want them to try to get just one more ball over the net than their opponent,’’ Martin said.

Another goal is to put the girls in a non-pressure situation and does not make them feel like abandoning the sport. Too much of that seems to be going on these days in some sports and recently has been brought into focus by ESPN and the Aspen Institute’s Project Play.

Early in August, ESPN released videos that depicted young athletes around age 9, a female soccer player and a male basketball player, who have press conferences to announce their “retirement’’ from their sport.

The videos, entitled “Don’t Retire Kid,’’ offer reaction/encouragement from notable sports stars Kobe Bryant, Wayne Gretzky, Mookie Betts, Sue Bird and Julie Foudy.

As Martin said, she wants the interest in the game to go beyond high school and even college.

She pointed to a recent study that indicates people who play a sport such as tennis have a life expectancy of 9.7 years longer than those who do not. She wants to help reverse the non-participatory trend among youths. A study revealed that in 2008, 45 percent of kids age 6-12 were involved in a sport, and by 2018, the number had dipped to 38 percent.

“What we’re trying to do is tied to character building,’’ Martin said. “One of the main character skills is respect – respect for the game, respect for the opponent and respect for teammates. It helps kids socially. Some of the kids who have grown up here have told me their best friends are ones developed in freshman tennis.

“You want to win, but this is more about the process than the result. It’s all a journey.’’



Green Team/Xavier A

Sophia Kleingartner, Alissen Orrego, Anna Pisoni, Grace Nelson, Olivia Taylor, Riley Dowdall, Bryn Murphy.

Blue Team/Xavier B

Morgan Finch, Ella Bratti, Morgan Ulrich, Jessyla Garcia, Maria Wolowiecki, Sofia Purcell, Ava Ryan.

Red Team/Xavier A

Taylor Linaman, Campbell Linaman, Charlie Righi, Ava Baxla, Nancy Langmade, Lauren Vowels, Ashley Stelnik.

Yellow Team/Xavier B

Aurora Sanchez, Amaya Healy, Reese Brown, Caroline Cody, Kathryn Faulkner, Bailey Wolcott, Ava Hamilton.

Purple Team/Xavier A

Lilly Reaves, Anna Bowles, Maggie Wuycheck, Jenna Burch, Aubrie Silva, Regan Simmers, Nicolette Moyes, Lily Helfert.

Peach Team/Xavier B

Alex de Leon, Maddie Farren, Grace Wilson, Samantha Patton, Lillian Ash, Emily Bergeron, Sophie Saia, Dina Gorman.

Pink Team/Xavier A

Bailey Brown, Abby Chrisman, Grace Cline, Erika Verduzco, Abby Dotson, Mia Felix, Lexie Pankow.

Gold Team/Xavier B

Katie Herro, Carolyn Kain, Gabriella Konopka, Josephine Kukowski, Sydney Lodato, Aaiya Magitt, Tiffany Weddell.

Tan Team/Xavier A

Alyssa Isaac, Addison Aramian, Kimberly Contreras, Priya Mikus, Jocelyn Salgado, Madigan Moran, Stella Sciarappo, JoJo Donaldson.

Grey Team/Xavier B

Deissy Torres, Savannah Smith, Perla Akiki, Nora Hinkle, Fiona Good, Anna Gregg, Natalie Moore, Yara Stipho.

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