Hitting the Courts: Girls Tennis practice in Preparation for a New Season

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AMITIS TAJALLAEI, Staff Writer 

Even with the uncertainty surrounding the upcoming season, the Girls Tennis team has utilized off-season practices to keep their players in shape.  Since tennis is a contact-free sport, practices have not been as impacted by  COVID-19 restrictions as some other sports on campus.
“The good thing about tennis is that there is a lot of distance between players, and there are no physical interactions,” junior Kayla Rezazadeh said. “Even with COVID, we continue to do what we usually do, except we play with masks on and don’t use old balls that may not be clean.”
Since these restrictions do not pose a significant obstacle to their practices, the girls have been able to use their time this year to focus on many independent techniques and drills to become well-rounded players. However, wearing masks still poses a challenge for communication on the courts, which has become one of the focal points for this year’s practices.
“We have been hitting against each other as practice and working on volleys, groundstrokes, and serves,” junior Jasmine Nourisamie said. “We also have been working on how to strategize on the court and how to communicate with your partner during doubles play.”
Volleying is a technique used in tennis in which players attempt to strike a ball before it bounces off the ground. A groundstroke is a shot executed after the ball has bounced. These two methods focus on increasing the chances of scoring by making it more difficult for the opponent to return the ball. Serves are shots that mark the starting point of the game.
Although the virus has not played a significant role in restricting practices, some believe it has decreased the amount of practice time available for the players and it has made communication more difficult. 
“The toughest setback is just the restriction of time,” senior team captain Emily Markus said. “We haven’t had a lot of time to get to know everybody’s style of playing thoroughly, and we haven’t had a lot of time to work on things we usually would in previous years like doubles strategies and testing out different pairings.”
Other players have been struggling with motivation. Lack of competition opportunities combined with the lack of skill-conditioning have discouraged some players and served as sources of discouragement for many players. 
“A challenge for me personally was probably getting back into playing matches and getting into the competitive mindset after being in quarantine and not competing for such a long time,” said senior Kamya Nair. “Dealing with match nerves has been harder than usual as well after not competing for so long, but in my opinion, that gets better over time with more matches.”
As a result of the shortened practice times, many players have reported that practices have been more busy and productive, but less flexible. However, some players are complimentary of Coach John Kessler and his methods of adapting to this year’s challenges and leading the team.
“I think Kessler has done a great job preparing us,” junior Sara Maghami said. “We had about four weeks to get ready, and he was very good about easing us back into practice while also making sure we are ready for the upcoming matches.”
After long months of preparation and inconsistent district guidelines, the players are looking forward to kicking off the season. Many have not competed in a formal match since March 2019.
 “I am super excited to be out there with my team and having some good singles competition in that encouraging atmosphere,” said Nair. 
With team morale high and support from their coaches, the team is confident going into the season. 
“Tennis is arguably UNI’s strongest sport, and every year I have been on the team we were the CIF Finalists in the top division of Tennis. I look forward to seeing what we can achieve as a team this year despite everything,” Nourisamie said. “I think we have an amazing team, and we’re definitely ready for the competition ahead.”