Growing leaders: Girls tennis program heavy on mentorship

There are spots for only seven girls varsity tennis players — three singles and two doubles.

This year’s roster is 22 deep, nine of whom are freshmen.

The tennis team doesn’t make cuts, coach Thom Miller said. But that’s less about inclusion and more about potential.

In the next two years, Miller expects to see most of his varsity lineup graduate. He can’t afford to turn away the younger players because they are the ones who will grow into the next team leaders.

The older girls understand that as well, Miller said. The team has traditionally had strong leaders who even take time to work with junior high team.

“It’s their tennis program, it’s the girls’ tennis program,” he said.

“You just mention that something needs done, and they take charge,” Miller said of the seniors.

Yet, sometimes they don’t even need something pointed out to them.

Miller doesn’t remember any time a coach has ever actually asked one of the older players to help a younger player with their studies. It is simply something that each successive generation has picked up from the classes before them and carried on.

“That’s something that I’m really proud of, that they feel comfortable enough to come up and ask us for help, whether it be on or off the court,” senior Sarah Barrick said.

“We’ve had a tradition of being very accepting with each other and supporting each other, and that’s always been the way I’ve felt whenever I go out to play tennis,” senior Elisabeth Huls said.

The seniors are already impressed with how eager the new players are and with their willingness to ask for help, senior Vanessa Hoskins said.

Hoskins played at Brown County in junior high but went to Edinburgh for the past three years. She said the expectation on older players as role models isn’t as strong on other teams. Knowing the younger players are looking up to her makes her want to work that much harder to be a good example, she said.

Miller said he feels that throughout the Brown County athletics programs, coaches work to nurture integrity, caring and responsibility. He said it comes naturally for the younger players to turn to them for help outside of the game.

Tennis is about determination, grit, consistency and small gains over time, he said. Those are all life skills.

“It’s not easy, but there are a lot of things in life that are not easy,” he said.

Plan big

Miller said that he wants to dispel the “small-school mentality.

”It’s easy for players to assume that larger schools will always dominate, but that doesn’t have to be true, he said.

“It doesn’t matter what size school, team or program, we can compete at a high level,” he said.

The team has been growing in skill and has possibly the broadest talent pool it has ever had, he said.

So, Miller has lined up a tougher year than in the past, giving the girls the chance to play against competitors in the regular season who will prepare them better for the postseason.

That could mean their win-loss record will suffer, but the team has its eyes on advancing further in the postseason, he said.

“You are who you surround yourself with,” Miller said.

“We’re really pushing ourselves and playing bigger schools this year, and we’re going to keep pushing ourselves, because we want Brown County tennis to be the best tennis,” Barrick said.

Miller said he wants the girls to open their eyes to possibilities for the program and for their lives, and never be afraid that a dream is too big.

“It is a big dream, but we’re going to do it anyway,” he said.

Already the team has seen wins that they would not have expected a year ago, Huls said.

“It’s really great to finally see everything pay off,” she said. “We’ve all worked really, really hard the last four years, and we’ve trusted the process that Coach Miller has laid out for us.”

“I just think it’s going to be the best year,” Hoskins said.

Growing up

Even if the Eagles win sectional, Miller said he will still just see that as “icing on the cake.” The real reward will be the ways in which the team and each player have grown.

That is just another life lesson, he said.

“Growth never ends,” Miller said. “I love that the sport teaches you (that) you can always be better. That’s true in life, finances, health, fitness.”

Barrick said her final year playing for the Eagles is bittersweet.

“You’re excited that you’re at the top of the food chain,” she said. “But, it’s a process, and we’re all at the end of the process, so it’s really hard to accept that.”

“We’re all ready to graduate, but I’m not ready to get rid of tennis,” Huls said.

Eagles girls tennis

Freshmen: Hannah Asher, Grace Baughman, Olivia Baughman, Claire Danelley, Cassidy Davis, Sara Fishel, Kaitie Goodwin, Cordy Mockler, Meg Smith

Sophomore: Baelyn Koester

Juniors: Rachel Bessire, Zoe Conrad, Naima Faarax, Jacey Ferguson, Hallee Miller, Maya Rockhold, Leah Tucker, Maria Villalon

Seniors: Sarah Barrick, Haylee deWeerdt, Vanessa Hoskins, Elisabeth Huls

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Ben Kibbey is a Brown County transplant from the cornfields of central Ohio. He covers county government, business, outdoors, sports and general news.