CNE girls tennis serving up victories in 2018

By Garth Shanklin - Sports Editor
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With just over one week until the Southern Buckeye Athletic and Academic Conference girls tennis tournament in Wilmington, the Clermont Northeastern Lady Rockets have put themselves in good position to bring home some hardware.

The team currently is undefeated in league play, with one more match remaining before the league tournament. Head coach Liz Benjamin said she is thrilled with how the season has turned out thus far.

“It’s gone way better than I expected,” Benjamin said. “It’s been a surprise season, and I’m enjoying every minute of it.”

The Lady Rockets lost a few seniors off of last season’s team, a squad that finished 5-3 in the league. As such, Benjamin said that outside of Decatur as the team’s number one singles player, she wasn’t sure what role players would have entering the season, or how well they’d fare.

“I expected [Decatur] to have a really good season, coming off her player of the year last year,” Benjamin said. “My other singles spots were vacated when seniors left. I was at a blank slate in singles, and my second doubles were vacated as well. I wasn’t sure how my junior class would fill in, as well as the sophomores. They’ve stepped up.”

Decatur has continued her strong play, having dropped just one match so far this season, a three-set tilt in New Richmond against Sophia Dragoo on September 19.

“She has one more league match, and she’s already defeated that opponent,” Benjamin said. “She’s been undefeated throughout the season in league play. Her only blemish is a third-set loss to New Richmond’s [Sophia] Dragoo, which was this past Wednesday. Other than that, in the very first match of the season, she played Madison Baird from Felicity, and that went three sets, but every other match has been two sets and done. She’s stepped up. Last year she was undefeated through the season as well, and she’s continued that.”

In the second singles spot, junior Kenady Brown has stepped in after playing doubles for the Lady Rockets in 2017.

“She has put in work,” Benjamin said. “She’s a very strong left-handed server and she has good footwork. She’s stepped up to second singles for me.”

Abbey Baker is the team’s third singles player, and like Decatur, she too was undefeated in league play, with her lone loss on the season coming to New Richmond.

In doubles play, Destiny Sheangshang and Savannah Grenzer both have just three total losses on the year, and two in league play. The team’s second set of double players, Alyssa Ferguson and Raven Benshoof are above .500 on the year.

Benjamin said the results on the court thus far can be directly linked to the work the players did in the offseason, as well as their willingness to learn from a new assistant coach.

“It’s amazing,” Benjamin said. “The fact that they’re willing to put in work and that they’re doing summer work…This year, I also added a school-approved assistant coach named Sean Fraunfelter. He’s been a blessing to have an assistant coach. He’s teaching the ladies how to serve, we have two of them that are jump serving due to his guidance. The girls have put in so much work, and my assistant coach has been a huge asset as well.”

Benjamin explained why jump serving is an important skill for players to have, noting that very few players in the SBAAC’s National Division can do it.

“It adds so much more speed,” Benjamin said. “Very few girls, with the exception of Baird, I can think of off the top of my head that do it in the National. When you add that speed, first of all, it’s intimidating, and they’re increasingly accurate on their serves. My second singles, her serving left handed, that adds more of a variation to it.”

With the league tournament less than a week away, Benjamin said she hopes several Lady Rockets can bring home titles.

“I would love it if my top four could make it to the championship round, and ultimately walk away with the championship,” Benjamin said. “They’ve worked their tails off, and it’s really helped. They decided to put in the work, and they’re reaping the benefits of that. It’s been a great year.”

The SBAAC National Division tennis tournament was scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, September 26 at Wilmington High School, however weather delayed the event until Friday, September 28. The American Division tournament is still slated for Thursday, September 27 at that same location.

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By Garth Shanklin

Sports Editor