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New Richmond tennis program continues to show growth

Students in New Richmond High School varsity girls tennis coach Denise Devereux’s summer tennis classes celebrate the last week of practice by overhead smashing water balloons.1 / 5
Maddie Strahlman sets her sights on the service box during last Thursday’s tennis lesson. 2 / 5
Ari Devereux fights off a hard return during a doubles match.3 / 5
Sophie Fuchs looks up in anticipation just before she smashes a water balloon.4 / 5
Zoe Davis tries to dodge the spray of her broken water balloon.5 / 5

With youth, high school and adult classes dotting the calendar, opportunities abound for those looking to play tennis this summer.

Although New Richmond High School varsity girls tennis coach Denise Devereux is wrapping up her firstthrough fifth-grade and middle-schooler lessons this week, there are several other options for players to pick up their rackets in the coming months.

Grant Nelson, a 2011 graduate, is offering a two-week class for first- through fifth-graders in July, a time when tennis instruction is usually sparse due to the approaching high school season.

“I’m hopeful that we’ll see more boys filling the July sessions,” Devereux said. “Baseball will be done by then, and I’d love to see those kids experience what tennis is like and expose them to the game.”

Former varsity players Alyssa Jerlow and Molly O’Flanagan have also started a middle school league that meets on Mondays and Wednesdays throughout the summer. Devereux said the league has noticeably expanded the middle school program and fed the high school team.

“A lot of the time, my summer sessions fill up, so kids don’t get exposed to tennis,” Devereux said. “This is another great option to get out and play.”

There are also combined high school and adult lessons during the evening Monday through Thursday for community members to get involved in, as well as open tennis on Wednesday and Thursday at 6 p.m., which is for anyone looking for playing partners.

At the beginner level, Devereux teaches players basic tennis strokes and scoring. Many youth lessons consist of mini-tennis with softer balls to accommodate the kids’ power and size. As players reach the middle school level, they spend a lot of time playing matches in class to prepare themselves for the Fun Fest tournament, which Devereux encourages her students to enter.

Since its inception more than 10 years ago, the tournament has been a popular addition to Fun Fest weekend. With singles and doubles brackets for all ages over 10 and any gender combination, it has been an effective way to promote tennis within the community and prepare high school players for the season, according to Devereux.

Devereux said her 12-person sessions usually fill up, and she has added more time slots over the years. With the high school program representing about 30 to 40 girls, depending on the graduating and incoming classes, Devereux estimated that about 100 kids are playing tennis throughout the summer.

“We’re still growing the interest,” Devereux said. “Without indoor courts, we’re going to be a little behind. The long-term goal is to find a place where kids can play year-round.”

As a temporary solution, Devereux is looking into the possibility of holding winter lessons in the Community Commons gymnasium. Last winter, she offered a cardio tennis class in the facility that yielded good results. Although high school players can’t participate because of WIAA restrictions on coach-player contact during the offseason, adults and younger kids are welcome to attend.

“We have music playing the whole time, and I’m constantly feeding balls,” Devereux said. “The players are always moving and hitting groundstrokes – they hit well over 200 balls a night.”

While the girls Tiger tennis team hasn’t won the Middle Border Conference for two years, it has still produced numbers that show it is keeping up with the competition.

Although Devereux mentioned the loss of senior and state competitor Mattie Kidder is a tough blow, the team has good depth going into the 2014 season. Seniors Christian Weaver and Emma Bakke have developed into solid players, and Devereux expects a competitive class of juniors to battle for the open spots on varsity.

Still, Devereux stressed the necessity of summer play to keep the team competitive in the conference.

“The summer has to be considered part of our season for us to be successful,” Devereux said. “We usually only have four days of practice before our first match, so if we wait to play until practice starts, we’re going to be behind.”

The high school tennis season begins the second week of August. In the meantime, Devereux will keep an eye on the youth in her sessions and encourage their interest in tennis.

“Of course I would love to see all of the kids in my lessons continue to play,” Devereux said. “I’m always looking for high school players, but my main goal is to show kids a sport that they can do with their family and for a lifetime.”

Jenny Hudalla
A senior at Bethel University, Jenny Hudalla is pursuing degrees in journalism, Spanish and reconciliation studies. Having graduated from New Richmond High School in 2011, she served as editor-in-chief of the Tiger Rag before taking a job as editor-in-chief of Bethel's student newspaper, The Clarion. After completing her internship with the New Richmond News, Hudalla plans to move on to a career in social justice.
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