PELLA—Sorting out the lineup is among the biggest challenges a promising Central College women’s tennis squad takes on this season.
Armed with a year of college experience, a deep sophomore class complicates coach Ryun Ferrell’s lineup decisions but he’s hopeful the end result is a step up from last year’s fourth-place American Rivers Conference finish and 13-11 dual mark.
“I feel like we’ve got a shot at doing something really, really good this year,” Ferrell said.
Four starters return, including all-conference performer Karleigh Schilling (Swisher, Cedar Rapids Prairie HS).
Ferrell doesn’t have to debate his choice at No. 1 singles. Schilling was last year’s team De Haan Most Valuable Player Award winner but missed the spring season while studying in Europe through Central’s international studies program.
“Karleigh will definitely start out at No. 1,” Ferrell said. “She is by far the best player we have.”
Schilling absorbed some bumps at the top spot last year, posting a 4-10 fall-season singles mark which Ferrell describes as misleading.
“She was basically about four points away from only having one loss in the league,” he said. “Every match she played went three sets. She had match points. She had chances but just came up a little short.”
Schilling was 11-7 in doubles action and received all-league distinction in both singles and doubles.
“She just hugs the baseline and fights,” Ferrell said. “She keeps getting it back and never gets upset. She can come in, she can play aggressive, she can stay back, she can and grind, she can do it all. I just love how she plays. She’s an amazing teammate and an amazing young woman.”
Lauren Mize (junior, Sycamore, Ill.) played No. 3 singles last fall and also paid the price for a spot near the top with a 3-13 mark but was 6-6 in doubles.
“Lauren is extremely involved on campus so she gets pulled in many directions,” Ferrell said. “Last spring she started to find her legs and played really well. She told me this summer that she was going to find her game and she’s been working hard. I think she is going to help us, I’m just not sure where yet.”
Sarah Schirm (sophomore, Cedar Rapids, Xavier HS) was at No. 4 in her debut season. She sparkled in the fall at 11-2 but was 1-7 in the spring while posting an overall doubles mark of 13-10.
“She had such an amazing freshman campaign in the fall that there was a bit of a target on her in the spring and everyone who played her really went after her,” Ferrell said. “But she can do everything. She’s really good at getting the ball back and can kind of make you stay out there for forever and a day. I look for her to fill a nice role and help us out.”
Sami Thompson (senior, Knoxville) finished the fall campaign at No. 6 singles, posting a 7-5 overall record while going 3-1 in doubles, but hasn’t maintained a full-time varsity slot.
“Sami has improved a ton during her time here,” Ferrell said. “She’s always been a 7 or 8, but if we put her in at 5 or 6, she rarely loses to anyone we put her up against. I’d like to see her get in there and crack the lineup.”
Thompson is serving as team captain.
“I’m looking forward to what she can bring,” Ferrell said. “She’s probably the most positive person on the planet.”
Katie Larson (sophomore, Fort Madison) didn’t see much varsity action in the spring but made some noise at the conference tournament, reaching the Flight C finals. She was 11-3 in singles and 12-10 in doubles.
“Katie played 6 in the spring,” Ferrell said.” She is extremely coachable. She does anything you ask.”
Maddie Hartley (sophomore, Clarinda) got some varsity action in doubles in the fall before also getting a singles’ spot in the spring. She was 10-6 with a 12-10 doubles record.
“Maddie played 3 in the spring,” Ferrell said. “She did a great job with that. She’s probably our most improved player. She’ll help us somewhere in the lineup.”
Ferrell would like to see more of Alyssa Lewton (sophomore, Ankeny, Centennial HS) on the court, but she’s a setter and defensive specialist for the Dutch volleyball team. She was 1-3 in limited time in the spring and 2-5 in doubles, but has the ability to be a top-of-the-lineup player.
“We’re going to try to get her in a match or two in the fall so we can keep her going,” Ferrell said. “Alyssa is probably one of the most talented players we have. She’s been a doubles specialist so we’re trying to get her to be a little more relaxed on the singles court, too. If we can get her there, she is going to help us big-time. She is so talented.”
Bronwyn Metcalf (sophomore, Pella) also saw her first action in the spring but flashed some promise. She was 2-1 with a 6-5 doubles record after the late start.
“She’s very talented,” Ferrell said. “She hadn’t played in a while. She played No. 2 doubles with Maddie Hartley and those two just tore people apart. I expect her to help us somewhere, too.”
Several others bring limited experience but look to make a push, including juniors Grace Forde (Chicago, Ill., Regina Dominican HS), Kaysey Bos (Geneseo, Ill.), Madi Ulrich (Shelbyville, Ill., Huntley HS) and Alivia Gerstein (Iowa Falls, Iowa Falls-Alden HS) and sophomores Sarah Behrens (Red Oak) and Macy Scharff (Oskaloosa).
“Sarah (Behrens) was injured last spring,” Ferrell said. “But she’s got a lot of talent and could help us out. She should probably be the healthiest she’s been in her time here.
“Kasey (Bos) made huge strides last spring. She hit all winter long and then in the spring she just played great.
“Grace (Forde) just wants to be out there and wants to improve every single day. She’s going to work harder than anybody else on the court. I love having her around.
Scharff was sidelined by illness much of the season.
“She has some real good talent,” Ferrell said. “She’s a real good doubles player. She knows how to move the court. She isn’t afraid to be aggressive. I’m looking for her to step up and do some big things.
Gerstein and Ulrich have heavy off-court demands, limiting their time but not their potential, Ferrell said.
“Alivia (Gerstein) is athletic,” he said. “She could play in volleyball, tennis or in track and do well in all of it.
“Madi (Ulrich) has got skill, especially on the doubles court,” Ferrell said. “She loves to be aggressive and loves to attack.”
Four freshmen join the squad, led by Alex Griggs (Knoxville), a two-time state tourney participant.
Ferrell will likely play some split-squad matches, potentially sacrificing the team’s won-loss record to give more players needed experience while aiding Ferrell in making lineup decisions.
“We need to give everyone an opportunity to play so we can see exactly what we have,” he said.
Getting five freshmen extensive playing time last year should yield benefits this fall.
“Sophomores will be the core of the team,” Ferrell said. “I’m going to put a little pressure on them. I want them to step up as a core group and demand a little more of the group and of themselves.”
Wartburg College was a surprise conference champ last fall but Ferrell said Luther College will likely make a strong run at a return to the top over the Knights with Coe College and Loras College contending as well.
Ferrell puts Central’s name in the hat as well, depending on how quickly the youth transitions to experience.
“We’ve got a shot,” he said.
“We’re young, we just have to play like we’re not young. We have to act like we’ve done it before. Even though we haven’t beaten Luther and we haven’t beaten Coe, and Wartburg’s improved, that’s what needs to happen. When we get ahead, we just have to act like we’ve been there. We just have to relax and keep going. Don’t let them up once we have them down.
“I think we can do it. I think we have the talent to do it. But we’ve got to have that maturity piece”