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Ellsworth tennis: Team effort to learn new sport

Elijah Deringer returns a volley against Osceola on April 6. Jalen Knuteson / Rivertown Multimedia1 / 2
J.R. Matzek returns a volley in a No. 1 doubles match against Osceola on Thursday, April 6. Jalen Knuteson / Rivertown Multimedia2 / 2

When funding for boys tennis was approved in February, Ellsworth athletic director Ann Anderson said if everything went smoothly the team could return to competition on schedule with the rest of the state.

First, the Panthers needed a coach.

Enter Jordan Olson, who also coaches the Ellsworth girls tennis team in the fall.

The second step was figuring out how to keep score.

"Most of them have never played tennis competitively before," Olson said. "I was most surprised that they had to learn the basics of scoring. When I coached girls, new players come in and they at least know the scoring because they had played Wii tennis. I guess most of the guys had never played Wii tennis because they didn't know how the score went.

"The next thing that confused them was games, sets and matches. That was fun (to explain)."

She said that she was impressed how quickly they picked it up.

They're all learning together, though, so it's a group effort to learn as much as possible as fast as they can.

"It's a pretty good team experience. We get to know guys that we otherwise wouldn't really get to know," Elijah Deringer said. "It's great to see everybody working together to figure this out and help each other. Other sports, usually, everybody already knows what's going on, but for us we're all trying to learn at the same time, so it's more of a classroom team sport for us."

There are three seniors on the team, Jack Pieper, J.R. Matzek and Thaddeus Kosnopfal. Matzek and Kosnopfal each played for Ellsworth their freshman years before the program was cut.

"Last year and the year before we were pushing really hard to get (tennis back)," Kosnopfal said. "Ever since it was gone we were trying to figure out how we were going to get it back. Me and J.R. (Matzek) were always talking about how we were going to get tennis back."

Added Matzek: "I was sad that it was cut. Tennis is one of those sports that you really look forward to practice and having fun playing it."

Now that they have it back, the next step is to be competitive.

Matzek recognized that before his teammates could learn how to keep score, they would need to figure out how to hit the ball.

"It's been fun to watch guys try to figure it out," he said. "I just tell them that they need to keep practicing. It takes time, but it will come."

Matzek plays doubles with Pieper, who is in his first year playing tennis competitively.

"We're all really inexperienced," Pieper said. "It has taken a while to get used to the swing. I was used to swinging a baseball bat, so I had to figure out how to hit the ball again.

"I think the hand-eye coordination is a lot different. If you don't have the racquet the right way you're not going to hit the ball. But you can hold a baseball bat and have a different stance and when you swing the bat, it is still round, so you can still be hitting the ball."

Olson said after Ellsworth lost to Osceola on Thursday, April 6 that the team saw a lot of improvement from first set to the second set. Each day, more progress is made.

"It's been really fun to see them progress," Olson said. "Most of them have started at such a basic level that we've already seen a lot of progression, which is rewarding for them to see."