Turnaround complete: Highland boys tennis makes amazing transformation
May 16, 2018 11:49AM
● By Josh McFadden
Sophomore Cole Smith hopes to see varsity doubles action this season for the Highland boys tennis team. He played on the JV team a year ago but has risen up the ranks to compete for a starting spot. (Photo/Haslam Photography)
By Josh McFadden | [email protected]
This time last year, Highland High School boys tennis players were reflecting on a rough 0-15 season. This year’s squad experienced quite the reversal of fortune.
The Rams went 12-3 during the regular season this year, going from a region bottom feeder to a highly competitive team that represented the school well at the state tournament. It wasn’t as though opponents and observers expected this vast improvement. In fact, three of Highland’s varsity competitors weren’t even on the team’s JV squad last season.
“These boys wanted to earn varsity spots and worked hard during the offseason to be able to accomplish it,” said head coach Jeanine Elsholz. “Usually, when players get their first chance to play varsity, they are quite nervous, and it takes some time to make the jump to be able to compete at a varsity level, especially when they hadn't previously even played JV. But the boys easily made the jump and started winning right out of the gate this season. I was very impressed with the maturity and discipline they showed for being as young and inexperienced as they were at a varsity level.”
The doubles tandem of Jake Bauman and Cole Smith were two of the top competitors on the team and in all of Region 6. The pair went undefeated in region matches. They went into the state tournament seeded second in the region.
“It was so fun to watch,” Elsholz said. “They are two players that really listen to what we, as coaches, are teaching them, and they try to implement everything we teach. Their region record this year reflected their willingness to be coached, and I was so happy to see them have the success they did.”
For a program that has had its struggles, Highland showed resilience and resolve throughout the season. Even during difficult matches, Elsholz said her players continued to work hard and stay positive.
“What impressed me the most was the consistency of this team,” she said. “They came prepared to play every match and didn't let up. They started strong and kept right on going throughout the season. They were confident in their abilities because of the time and work they put in during the offseason.”
Elsholz said this season was full of positive experiences and highlights. She said things started off on the right foot from the beginning of the season when the team swept Bountiful and then took first place at the Riverton tournament the next day. She also pointed out how competitive her team was with region champion Olympus, which toyed with the Rams last season. Every match with the Titans was close this season, with Highland falling just short, 3-2.
“I will never forget the feeling of being right there with [Olympus] and thinking about how the boys set a goal to be able to compete with the top teams in the region, and were able to reach it,” Elsholz said. “That was so rewarding for me.”
Six of Highland’s seven varsity players qualified for state, which is five more than the program has sent the past two seasons. State qualifiers were junior Daichi Masuki, first singles; junior William Dale, third singles; juniors McKay Bradford and Abram Toronto, first doubles; and sophomores Bauman and Smith, second doubles.
Elsholz believes getting so many players to state bodes well for the present and the future.
“Having so many players competing at state this year is a big step up from where we were last year, and I think it will give the boys a taste of where they want to be in the future and can be used as motivation for them to keep working hard for next season.”
Speaking of the future, the program’s prospects look bright. The Rams return all their state qualifiers next season. Plus, the JV team went a perfect 10-0 this year. Elsholz hopes her boys will put in the necessary effort during the offseason and that the Highland program can continue to improve.
“These boys have shown me they are willing to pay the price and do whatever it takes to reach their goals,” she said. “I could not be more proud of how hard they have worked and what they have accomplished this season. I have loved working with such a great group of boys. This year has been a very special one, and one I will never forget. I can't wait to see what next season brings.”