Two years ago, nearly half of the athletes on the Clay Eagles tennis team had significant experience playing the sport.
Fast forward to today and Clay has the potential to do some great things.
At first-, second- and third-singles are three girls who are in their first year of varsity action. Senior Cassidy Coughlin is in just her second season on the team and sports a 4-2 record at No. 1. Her sister, Bailey, a junior, is also 4-2 at No. 2 singles and fellow junior Haley Orr is 5-1 at No. 3 singles.
“Cassidy, Bailey and Haley started playing competitive tennis about 14 months ago,” said Eagles coach Walt Ralph, now in his 18th season with the club. “They came out last year and cut their teeth at the JV level. They're athletic and once they were introduced to some of the basics, they just took off. Their success is coming off footwork, getting to the ball and having a consistent stroke. They're frustrating players who have some more polish but can't compete with that consistency.
||Far left, Clay No. 1 doubles team Jennifer Belkofer (left at night) and Emilie Roman, both seniors, in their match Wednesday against Maumee Valley Country Day. At right, Clay No 1 singles player Cassidy Coughlin. (Press photos by Ken Grosjean)
“They've really improved. All three of my singles players are beating players that have been competing at the varsity level for 3-4 years now. It's a testament to how hard they've worked.”
That trio, with the help of the doubles duos, has led Clay to a 4-2 start through its first six matches. The losses have come to quality programs in Perrysburg and St. Ursula. In their match against the Arrows, the Eagles fell, 3-2, losing the match in heartbreaking fashion when the No. 2 doubles duo lost the third set in a tiebreaker.
The No. 1 doubles duo is comprised of seniors Jennifer Belkofer and Emilie Roman. The two of them, both of whom played singles last year, have performed brilliantly, going 6-0 thus far. At No. 2 doubles are fellow seniors Jenn Lucas and Rachel Nelson, who are 4-2.
“We're so deep at singles that we were able to team them up and it's been a wonderful situation for us,” Ralph said. “(Lucas and Nelson) were the first doubles team last year. Our strength is our depth. Bringing those athletic tennis players (at singles) allowed us to shift some players around. It's a terrific situation.
“(Belkofer and Roman) are very confident and experienced as a doubles team and today (against Maumee Valley County Day Wednesday) was the best tennis I've been them play. They're also moving in the right direction.”
Ralph also credits his other doubles squad, comprised of seniors Lily Mominee and Taylor Daniel, with helping to round out the team. He credits their efforts over the past four years and notes that they'll see significant varsity time this year. The only reason the duo won't see more time is because of the extensive talent and depth the team possesses.
“They're talented and really working awfully hard and improving every match,” Ralph said. “They work so hard, it's very satisfying to watch them develop.”
Ralph credits the girls with working hard during the offseason to refine their game. He has set up a program that includes roughly 40 individuals who compete against one another during the summer. The group consists of boys and girls players, former players who have graduated, and some parents and adults.
“There are also programs and leagues that the girls play in during the offseason to improve their game,” Ralph said. “Some of the girls take lessons, too.”
Despite the fact that the season is still young, Ralph has high hopes for this group, hoping they can make a run at the Three Rivers Athletic Conference tournament and the postseason.
“In our league, our goal would be to finish second,” he said. “I think Notre Dame is probably going to be a little too deep for us. Our goal is to get by St. Ursula. I think a goal for us would be to get to 17 wins, which would be a school record for us.”
Clay No. 1 singles player Cassidy Coughlin in her match Wednesday against Maumee Valley Country Day. (Press photo by Ken Grosjean)
Clay No. 1 doubles team Jennifer Belkofer (left at net) and Emilie Roman, both seniors, in their match Wednesday against Maumee Valley Country Day. (Press photo by Ken Grosjean)