Tallmadge girls tennis seeks to build on 2019 success and more importantly, stay healthy

FRANK ACETO Reporter

Abraham Lincoln once said, “The best way to predict the future is to create it.”

However, the former U.S. President may have been stumped if he had to face the current situation.

Due to a deadly respiratory tract infection known as COVID-19, the future is being created by nothing but turmoil.

Regarding today’s world, the late 20th-century French author Paul Valéry may have said it best: “The trouble with our times is that the future is not what it used to be.”

It sure isn’t.

Fortunately for the members of the Tallmadge girls tennis team, there is a future for them. For now, at least.

While some contact sports have been delayed due to the virus, court will be in session for the Blue Devils this fall. That is, of course, if the pandemic is kept under wraps.

Therefore, it will be business as usual for third-year head coach Steve Strasser. Perhaps Strasser’s business will remain open for the entire season. Or, he could face the possibility of eventually closing his doors until 2021.

“It is really hard to set expectations for the season given the current climate,” Strasser said. “The season could end up going off without a hitch or look a lot different than anything we have seen in the past. We are really just trying to take it a day at a time.”

In a perfect world, Strasser would like to see his players crush forehands and slice backhands for as long as possible.

More importantly, he hopes they remain in one piece.

“First and foremost, we want the girls to be safe and enjoy the chances that they do get to compete,” Strasser said. “This season may be more about being thankful for and making the most of the opportunities that we do get than anything else.”

They seemed to have gotten that message already.

Last year, the Blue Devils finished 6-12 overall and 1-5 in the Suburban League American Conference.

While those records aren’t the least bit dazzling, for Tallmadge, such facts have brought an enthusiasm to the program that hasn’t been seen in quite some time.

The Blue Devils won just one match in 2018. Last year, Tallmadge finally conquered one of its formidable American Conference opponents. By the way, this group of blue-and-gold tormentors have toyed with the Blue Devils for quite some time.

Does that mean Tallmadge will compete for a conference title this fall? Probably not. At the same time, though, it would not be wise to take the Blue Devils for granted any more.

“Regarding the league, I don’t expect to see a whole lot of change this year from last,” Strasser said. “Some teams might move up or down a spot, but the tiers, top, mid and bottom, should be similar.

“We are getting better every year and are trying to get closer to that middle tier. I think we are better this year so I do expect us to compete with some teams in the league. How that shakes out as far as our finishing position, I’m not sure.”

Like last year, Tallmadge has plenty of “racqueteers.” The Blue Devils have 18 players on their roster.

“I’m really happy with that,” Strasser said. “We were struggling to fill a varsity roster three years ago so having a full varsity and JV [junior varsity] team is awesome.”

Not everybody is back, though. Tallmadge lost six seniors to graduation, including three-year letter winners Bella Yates and Ariyannah Waino.

The Blue Devils do have five returning varsity players who were regulars in the rotation last fall.

Leading the way is senior Anna Siesel, who is expected to occupy the first singles spot for the third consecutive year. Siesel received honorable mention to the American Conference all-star team last season.

“Anna has improved every year that she has played, but this year, she looks to take a big leap forward,” Strasser said. “She worked really hard in the offseason on her game and it has shown in a major way in the practices we have had so far.”

Junior Emily Rotunda, who has competed at second singles ever since she joined Tallmadge, received American Conference honorable-mention recognition, as well.

“Emily relies on a powerful baseline game,” Strasser said. “She has the ability to finish off points by hitting winners and the key for her this year is getting a little more consistent and staying in points longer.”

Senior Elena Kozma played third singles last season and could be in the mix for one of the doubles spots this fall.

“Elena has lettered the last two years and is a versatile player who has worked really hard at improving,” Strasser said. “From the early practices, she has greatly improved her net play and hopefully, she can use that to find success this year in singles or doubles.”

The doubles team of senior Claudia Palmer and sophomore Marley Queen are back in the mix, as well. The standout duo led the team with 10 victories last season.

“They look to continue their momentum from last year,” Strasser said. “Marley is coming off of a really strong freshman season and her strengths are her competitiveness and net play. Claudia is a two-year letter winner who brings experience and shotmaking to the combo.”

A certain freshman has gotten her coach’s attention, too. Her name is Frankie Ridenour, who has a chance to crack the starting rotation at singles or doubles.

“Frankie has really shown promise in the preseason,” Strasser said. “She uses her power and excellent hands at the net to be a player who can help our team in multiple positions. As she gains experience and confidence, she will be a factor for our team.”

The rest of the varsity lineup includes juniors Kelsey Barker, Caroline Peters, and Avianna Miller and sophomores Vicky Vue and Hadley Campbell.

“Vicky and Kelsey are two of the most improved players in the program,” Strasser said.

Strasser’s assistant is second-year coach Ann Hagedorn.

If everything goes as planned, Tallmadge has a chance to have its best season in quite some time. If the season actually happens, of course.

One way or another, Strasser and his army of ball-strikers will report for duty until they are forced to retreat.

The season will begin regardless of this nightmarish pandemic. And for Strasser and Co., there’s no looking back.

Perhaps British Prime Minister Winston Churchill may have the best advice when it comes to our current world’s extremely harsh circumstances.

“If we open a quarrel between past and present, we shall find that we have lost the future.”

“The girls are working really hard and the camaraderie and attitudes have been all we could ask for,” Strasser said. “I’ll be happy if we keep that environment going throughout the season and improve a little each time we get on the court.

“I can’t say enough good things about this group, especially the three seniors and junior Emily Rotunda. They have been a part of the program since I have been the head coach and are really the ones who deserve credit for building the team.

“They have worked extremely hard and each has been a leader in her own way. I am hoping that they can see the rewards of that this season.”

The Blue Devils are scheduled to make its 2020 debut against Chippewa Wednesday in Doylestown. Play is set to begin at 10 a.m.

Reporter Frank Aceto can be reached at 330-541-9444, faceto@recordpub.com or @Faceto_Gannett.