Swing into spring

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FKHS tennis season begins this week

Gold Standard Sports Editor
Once the snow melts and spring temperatures are here to stay, the Fort Knox tennis teams will be a fixture out on the courts. With Kentucky’s unpredictable weather, court time has come at a premium so far.
The Knox head coach is no stranger to the constant battle with the spring weather.
Head coach Liz Barnes has coached the girls’ team for years, but 2013 marks the first year she will oversee both the boy and the girls. In the short time the team has been practicing for this week’s start of the season, the Knox coach likes what she sees so far.
“We are very blessed to have such a group of kids,” Barnes said. “They are very supportive of each other and they are quick learners.”
So far, the Eagles have been focusing on conditioning along with the mechanics of hitting the ball.
“We’ve actually worked on our forehand, backhand, backhand slice and our serves so far,” Barnes said.
Friday marked only the third time the Knox tennis teams were able to hit the court. Most of the practices have taken place at Scott Middle School’s gym, where the Eagles have been able to put work in.
“We’ve done some agility drills in the gym along with conditioning and we’re really seeing a difference when we are able to take the court,” Barnes said.
Knox returns several familiar faces from last year, including starters at the No. 1 singles positions for both the girls’ and boys’ teams.
Senior Mason Roberts will be tasked to lead the Eagles this season, but experienced players such as Troy Boxrucker will be counted on at the No. 2 singles position.
For the Lady Eagles, Maria Rogers returns at the No. 1 singles position while fellow returnee Briana Quichocho will transition from doubles to singles. Nadine Stacey and Kaylaah Capindo will team up at the No. 1 doubles position.
With a handful of players who have a season or more of experience under their belt, Barnes and the other coaches are aware of certain facets of the game they will look to improve upon in 2013.
“Some of the kids have set goals. Like Mason wants to improve his serve, Maria is looking to become more confident and a stronger competitor out on the court and Brianna’s goal was to switch from doubles to singles,” she said. “Brianna has to learn a whole new concept out there because she’s going to be out there by herself.”
While the experienced players will be called upon to lead, Barnes was quick not to discount the rapid improvement of the newcomers.
“With the new kids, they just want to learn,” she said. “That’s what I love about these kids because we can put anything out there to them and they will practice and practice at it.”
Will Ostlund and Robert Bell are among the new players in the program, but their impact on the team will be felt right away as they will team up at the No. 1 doubles position.
Several players are already settling into their particular positions in the Knox lineup, but positions could change after regular season play has begun.
“We’ve got a lot of standouts, so the first few weeks we might be shifting people around,” Barnes said. “We’ve got some players that are better than others at certain things, but we’ve got some real talent out there this year.”
Knox will take the court this afternoon against Central Hardin in what Barnes said will be a chance to see what her players are made of.
“We’ll see what we need to work on because without them being on the courts and getting court time, it’s going to be a new experience for our newcomers,” she said. “For our returning players, we’ll just focus on strategy to see what works and what doesn’t.”
Barnes might have a tall task in leading both the boys’ and girls’ programs, but she won’t be alone.
Ramon Rodriguez will assist Barnes while volunteer Kenneth Shipp will provide a wealth of tennis knowledge from his own experience.
Shipp, now retired from the military and now working at Human Resources Command on the installation, has been playing tennis competitively for decades.
“I’ve been playing tennis since high school and I was a member of the All-Army tennis team, the All-Army Hawaii tennis team and I’ve been playing in USTA leagues,” Shipp said. “For about the last 10 years I’ve been focusing a lot more on coaching.”
The decision to help the Knox tennis program was a no-brainer for Shipp. He watched the team last year and saw potential. Shipp attended the town meeting held in February and made it known he was willing to lend a hand.
“They said they couldn’t pay me, but I said, ‘I didn’t ask you to pay me,” he said. “I got the opportunity and spoke with Coach Barnes and she said to come on.”
Shipp has been around many young tennis players, but the Knox teams displayed the intangibles he says aren’t all that common.
“It’s their will to play, they’re all easy to teach, easy to learn and you don’t get that everywhere,” he said. “These kids actually want to play. I hate to say it, but since they’re military kids, they pick up on things a lot faster. For some, it would take me three to four months to get them to a forehand; these kids have done it in two weeks.”
Prior to joining the coaching staff, Shipp was able to work with Rogers in the offseason. Like many on the team, she has displayed marked improvement.
“Take Maria last year, she could hit the ball really well, but she wasn’t consistent,” he said. “Now, she’s very consistent. I spent a summer working with her. Now I get to work with all of them. We’ve just got to keep them here longer than two years.”
The Knox tennis teams feature a wide variety of players with varying experience levels, but they want to make sure the season is enjoyable for everyone.
“We want them to have fun, learn the game of tennis and compete,” Shipp said.