When it comes to his team, Steven Strasser may consider late British writer and lay theologian C.S. Lewis as a source for inspiration this fall.
"There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind," The Chronicles of Narnia author once said.
The Tallmadge second-year head girls tennis coach certainly hopes so.
With a lineup flooded with youngsters, the Blue Devils finished 1-12 overall and 0-6 in the vaunted Suburban League American Conference last season.
Strasser, on the other hand, isn’t fretting. The victories may be lacking, but Tallmadge’s enthusiasm for a 19th-century sport that originated in England has reached an all-time high.
Last year, the Blue Devils had eight players on their roster. Let’s just say their friends seemed to take notice.
Several of them, in fact.
The 2019 version of Tallmadge features an astonishing 19 members. Perhaps author Jeanette Murray could have been describing the Blue Devils in her 2011 book, The Game of Love.
"Love is nothing in tennis, but in life, it’s everything."
"We will be able to field a JV [junior varsity] team, which is really important," Strasser said. "Last year, we had girls trying to learn the game at the varsity level and that is a really tough thing to do. This year, we are a lot deeper and that will help make everyone better."
The players heard just one voice when they took the court last fall. This year, they will seek knowledge from two sets of primary vocal cords.
A female instructor will be near Strasser’s side in the coming weeks. Her name is Ann Hagedorn, who will serve as Tallmadge’s assistant coach.
This court is adjourned? Definitely not the ones located on North Munroe Road.
"I'm excited to have Ann join me," Strasser said. "The fact that the program is growing to the point of needing a JV coach is great."
The Blue Devils’ youth program took a beating when it came to the win/loss total last fall. Thankfully, all of the returning players get a well-deserved do-over. That’s because Tallmadge did not lose a single senior to graduation.
Two of Strasser’s top players won’t be wearing a cap and gown any time soon.
The doubles team of sophomore Emily Rotunda and junior Anna Siesel reached the quarterfinals in Division II sectional play last year.
"Emily was really thrown right into the fire last year at second singles," Strasser said. "She faced some tough competition. The experience should help her this year.
"Anna’s positiveness, kindness and coachability makes her a great teammate and are qualities I really appreciate as a coach."
Unlike last season, Tallmadge will have two seniors on its roster. One of them has been around the block quite frequently.
Ariyanah Waino is a three-year letter winner who played both singles and doubles in 2018.
"Ariyanah brings great energy to the team," Strasser said. "Her strengths are her competitiveness and athleticism. She is expected to be our team leader because of her experience."
Waino’s classmate, Bella Yates, has gone through quite a transformation in the last several months, according to Strasser.
That stunning metamorphosis now features a rather potent weapon in her arsenal.
"Bella is one of the most improved players from last year to this year," Strasser said. "She will contribute at doubles, where her improved net play will be an asset."
Other returnees include juniors Elena Kozma and Claudia Palmer, who have fine-tuned their games quite nicely, as well.
"Elena and Claudia have shown a lot of growth from last year," Strasser said. "They put in some work in the offseason and it is showing."
The American Conference may not be particularly kind to the Blue Devils. This impressive collection of juggernauts has built quite a reputation as a power conference, thanks to its overwhelming amount of gifted players.
Nonetheless, a much-needed conference win isn’t completely out of the realm of possibility. A checkmark in that category would certainly be a promising start.
"The Suburban League will be tough again this year as it always is," Strasser said. "I think we will be more competitive than we were last year."
Either way, Strasser is going to relish the journey. The ball-striking guru is part of a ladies club that has him smiling ear to ear.
And since he enjoys being around this engaging group of teenagers, Strasser may lean on the elegant words of a certain 20th century British wordsmith to guide them through the storms.
Just like the Pevensie children during their frightening encounters with the coldhearted White Witch.
"We are mirrors whose brightness is wholly derived from the sun that shines upon us."
"This is one of the most enjoyable groups that I have been around," Strasser said. "They are overwhelmingly positive, always having a good time and a lot of fun to coach.
"Win, lose or draw, this team really epitomizes what high school athletics should be about. Hopefully, that will translate into some more success on the court."
Tallmadge is scheduled to make its 2019 debut at the Orrville Invitational Aug. 17 at the College of Wooster. Play is set to begin at 9:30 a.m.
Reporter Frank Aceto can be reached at 330-541-9444, firstname.lastname@example.org or @FrankAceto_RPC.