The Ottumwa girls tennis team continues to grow and grow and grow some more.
This season 45 girls came out for tennis — seven more than last season — the highest number coach Emily Phommachack has seen since she took over the reins of program five years ago.
“I feel honored the girls want to play tennis,” Phommachack said.
The Bulldogs will begin their season Saturday at the Cedar Rapids Kennedy’s Vance Fuller Invitational.
Ottumwa, however, will be a little shorthanded because some of the girls — senior Kelsey Granneman and juniors Hayli Beeson and Megan Black — will be on vacation during spring break. Phommachack said she will take seven girls to the invite: Juniors Jennifer Klodt, Sydney Grooms, Paige Davidson, Abagail Messer and Jill Ardueser and sophomore Caroline Carlson and senior Beth Overturf.
Ardueser and Klodt will pair up in doubles competition, Phommachack said.
The Cedar Rapids invite poses a stern first test for the Bulldogs.
“It’s definitely a challenge,” the coach said. “It’s not something we can brush through.”
Uncooperative weather has reduced the amount of time the girls have spent on the tennis court, thereby decreasing the number of challenge matches — matches to decide the seeds in varsity singles and doubles competition — the team has been able to have.
“The first week we were doing a lot of conditioning drills in the gym,” Phommachack said.
Thus far, the coach has been heartened by the effort her girls have exerted on the tennis court and in the gym.
“They are really hard workers,” Phommachack said. “Even though the first week it was just pure conditioning, the girls really gave it there all and I’ve been impressed with the tennis team so far.”
While the seeds for doubles and singles play remain undecided, the girls the coach expects to see in varsity competition include Klodt, Ardueser, Grooms, Beeson, Black and Carlson.
The Bulldogs start their season one year removed from posting a laudable 9-4 record in duals. Although Ottumwa failed to earn a state berth as a team last spring, the duo of Ashley Salgado and Granneman placed eighth at the Class 2A state tournament in doubles competition and took first at regionals, which took place in Ottumwa at Dan Staggs Courts.
This season’s team will have to make due without some of last year’s key contributors — Salgado, Katie Hicks and Mary Paluska — who graduated last spring.
“I see this as another rebuilding year,” Phommachack said. “I’m looking for the girls that are going to step up and fill those shoes from last year.”