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.

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Freshman tennis doing things the right way

 Start them early, finish strong.

That just might be the main reason for the success of the Xavier Prep tennis program.

The Gators have been one of the most successful teams in Arizona, not by pure chance or being an overnight sensation, but by the work ethic instilled in the players beginning with their freshman year.

The process is moving right along at XCP’s Stark Tennis Center and at opposing courts around the Valley.

Judy Hernandez is the head coach of this year’s group. She is in her third season at Xavier and takes over the program after Laurie Martin, who led both the varsity and freshman teams, cut back on her schedule for family reasons. Martin will continue to lead the varsity.

The frosh program is no-cut, which it has been for quite some time. This year signaled the arrival of 84 fresh faces, who have been assigned to various color groups, from those with experience to those who are at the beginner’s level.

The top competitive team consists of players who have the most experience, and a second team also plays against other schools. Both of these groups have matches about twice a week. When one team plays at home, the other usually is on the road.

The third group, the beginners, does the bulk of its work on Fridays. When they are not playing matches, the A and B groups alternate practice days. Hernandez and her assistant coaches cover the large groups in their practices, most of the time working with the same players in order to familiarize themselves with the players’ skill levels.

“And the beginners basically have never picked up a racquet,’’ Hernandez said. “They are in a seven-week program. By the end, we want them to be able to play doubles, with a smaller court marked off and lower-impact tennis balls. We want them to be able to move and score and work with their teammates.’’

There was a two-week delay to the start of the workouts due to the Covid virus, but when it got up and running, the girls came in ready to learn.

The coach and her assistants have been energized by the support they have received from the athletic department, and Athletic Director Sr. Lynn Winsor in particular.

“When the girls come here, they already know about the Xavier tennis program and how good it is,’’ Hernandez said. “They all want to be a part of tennis, keeping it going.’’

Coaches are practicing safety protocols with the players, taking temperatures at the start of the sessions and emphasizing the use of masks.

“We want to keep everybody healthy,’’ Hernandez said.

One of the players with the most experience is Megan Wheeler. She has received instruction at various locations around the Valley and has played in USTA events. She comes from an athletic family – her sister, Hannah, is a junior at XCP and is a member of the cross-country team.

Megan Wheeler has done some distance running, but felt like she could be more successful in tennis.

“The running helped me with endurance,’’ she said.

She enjoys all aspects of the game, including the strategy.

“It’s really fun to be out there and practice together,’’ she said. “I like tennis because no match is really the same. You are constantly solving problems, what to do next and I find it stimulating to try and figure it all out.’’

Another important aspect is getting to know her teammates and having everyone support each other.

“This is a game that you will be able to play forever and ever,’’ she said.

Xavier Prep freshman tennis roster – 2020

Head coach – Judy Hernandez. Assistants – Ann Coover, Emily Even, Amy Gallo, Lara Murphy, Ford Oliver, Joy Rodey.

(Players listed alphabetically)

Alison Adams, Emily Alaimo, Zeara Arora, Brett Arthur, Itzel Atienzo, Emily Bartlett, Daniela Barrera Adame, Lily Beaver, Eva Berastegui, Shefali Bhakta, Isabel Bobis, Briella Boubek, McKenna Boyer, Katelin Brecheisen, Lucy Brink, Natalie Brooks, Carla Bueno, Lucy Bullington, Capri Cadwell, Lunden Carlson.

Emily Carrillo, Elizabeth Church, Olivia Clennan, Jeannie Cobb, Sonya Colattur, Gabriella Conti, Kaytlyn Cooper, Isabelle Cordell, Emma DelGhiaccio, Emerson Dominguez, Chloe Fox, Lily Frakes, Cecilia Goldberg, Valentina Gomez del Campo, Nancy Govea, Morgan Greenwood, Asiana Guang, Taylor Herget, Taylor Hillebrand, Harper Hipps, Monserrat Huelitl, Lucy Jackman.

Iliana Kockinis, Annamaria La Sota, Stephanie Lee, Kate Lum Lung, CC Lunt, Paige Maher, Ashley Mansour, Aliana Manzur, Makayla Marshall, Marlee McCloskey, Lilly Mederos, Gizelle Medina, Bryce Mueller, Neva Nemanic, Annabel Ohman, Elayna Pennell, Ellie Pompay, Mia Ponce, Francesca Raffa, Francesca Ricci, Marlys Rimmer.

Reagan Ryan, Amelia Sabatino, Aleksia Sandvig, Anna Santos, Cara Schillinger, Ella Schuster, Ella Seaman, Lucy Shanahan, Sofia Singh, Jenna Stegman, Kristina Stender, Ashley Valdivia, Chloe Vaughn, Katherine Warren, Megan Wheeling, Kate Willcoxson, Pierson Wilson, Ava Woodhead, Bella Woods, Megan Wubker, Kiera Young.

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