Girls tennis opens; Region 9 teams look to improve

Dixie High School sophomore Kenedi Cooper practices at Green Valley tennis courts for upcoming season, St. George, Utah, May 2012 | Photo courtesy of Ken Cooper, St. George News

SOUTHERN UTAH – As the 2012 girls’ tennis season draws near, players and coaches alike are putting on their game faces and aiming for the top.

Region 9, which encompasses Canyon View, Cedar, Pine View, Hurricane, Snow Canyon, Desert Hills and Dixie high schools in Washington and Iron counties, is, for the most part, an evenly matched and highly competitive region. Victories in season matches are often decided by mere points and all seven schools regularly send multiple players to state championship.

Despite a valiant effort, a lackluster end-result in boys’ tennis this spring has the girls of southern Utah inspired to work even harder to carry their teams all the way.

The one to beat at State is Judge Memorial Catholic High School from Salt Lake City, undefeated in their region all season long and the 2011 overall winner.

The Snow Canyon team finished in second place at 2011 State and is looking to follow up with an even better result, which may prove difficult as five of their seven varsity players graduated in June. But with a combination of improved veterans and promising rookies, the girls are confident that they will still put forth a good performance.

Since reaching the semifinals last year, 17-year-old Emily Till has redoubled her training, practicing an average of four hours every day. A strong doubles player throughout her high school career, she is now contending for a singles spot and hopes to end her senior season with a victory. And while she has worked hard to prepare physically, she has realized that mental readiness is also crucial.

“(During off-season) I (have been) sitting alone at my school’s courts, envisioning myself making the rights shots in the future season,” Till said. “There are going to be a lot of talented players on the road to Region and State and I (want) to compete at my highest level.”

Teammate Franchesca Eklund, who will be making her high school tennis debut this year, agreed.

“My biggest competition is myself,” she said. “I’m looking for self-improvement (throughout the) season.”

Dixie, known for strong teams on both the boys’ and girls’ sides, is also struggling with the loss of two dominant singles players.

“It will be tough to replicate what we did last year, finishing third in State,” said coach Eric Christensen. “With that said, our girls (are) getting better (by) working hard in the off-season and improving. There are (several) players competing in varsity spots who haven’t played varsity before.”

One such newcomer is Kenedi Cooper, an accomplished soccer player who took up tennis only a year ago. Through her dedication to the sport and the instruction of her father, Ken Cooper – a coach at the Green Valley Spa and Hotel, assistant coach for Dixie and founder of the 4D Love Tennis Club – she has quickly become a rising star on the team, along with last year’s runner-up in first singles, Cydnee Wilkinson.

Snow Canyon High School senior Emily Till readies for a volley, Region 9 Tennis, St. George, Utah, July 2012 | Photo courtesy of Emily Till, St. George News

“Our whole team (has) been working hard and is craving to take the title this year,” Wilkinson said.

And despite a disappointing ninth place finish last year, Desert Hills should not be counted out of the running just yet. In 2008, 2009 and 2010, they took State and are viewed by other Region 9 schools as a fierce competitor.

“(We have) a tradition of tennis excellence,” said second doubles player Megan Knudsen. “(Our) coach brings out the best in our team and focuses on hard work and integrity. We will be the 3A State champion (again.)”

The first team practices for all Region 9 schools began Monday. Official season matches are expected to kick off in mid-August. No date has been set for the Region competition yet, but the State championship will be held October 5-6 at Liberty Park in Salt Lake City. The entire season is overseen by the Utah High School Activities Association.

Pine View coach Jessica Stout said, “I am eager to dive into the season and matches. Our goal this year is team unity and I love to see the girls work hard and rise above challenges.”

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Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2012, all rights reserved.

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