Extremely low numbers point to tough season ahead for Ephrata
Mike Garman’s seventh year as head coach of the Ephrata girl’s tennis team may be the most challenging yet.
If you subtract the top seven players from last year’s team, and ask the Lady Mounts to compete against the top talent of the Lancaster-Lebanon League’s Section One this fall, you may say it can’t be done.
“Experience-wise, we are a JV team facing varsity squads,” said Coach Garman, who also coaches the Lady Mounts varsity girl’s basketball team. Ephrata finds itself in this position because they graduated five seniors from last year’s team, and two expected returning seniors decided not to play.
The roster of seven girls includes junior Catherine Vargas, sophomores Faith Dalavai, Caitlin Luong and Eliza Mull plus freshmen Grace Dalavai and Lauren Kachel. A stress fracture to Kachel’s right thumb has the able-bodied number down to six.
Following week one, Ephrata is 0-3. The Lady Mounts dropped a 5-0 non-league match to Lancaster Mennonite last Thursday. Number two singles was the bright spot as Mull took the first set 6-3. In another non-leaguer, Ephrata dropped the home opener on Monday, 6-1 to Annville-Cleona. Vargas, a first-year player, captured the only team point at number four singles.
Yesterday’s Section One opener at Penn Manor had an extra hurdle in the reigning L-L First Flight champion Katina Jones. All Jones did was sweep number one singles 6-0 and 6-0, after leading the number one doubles pair to an 8-0 win. The final team score was 7-0 with Mull dropping a thrilling 6-4 set in number two singles.
Garman addressed the following question. How do you increase the numbers and experience? “There are only six weeks of the regular season,” he said. “Most girls’ sports have a middle school team, and tennis does not. You have to somehow create interest in the off-season that lasts until high school. There are youth programs and a teaching pro connected to the Ephrata Recreation Center. I even asked the athletic director if we could have middle school students practice with us. Of course we couldn’t. I just have to be more active and reach out to these kids.”
That teaching pro is 95’ Ephrata grad Jodi Wilson, who was certified in 2008 by the USPTA (United States Professional Tennis Association). The Messiah College graduate coordinates individual and team instruction through the Ephrata Rec Center plus both the Spooky Nook Sports Center and the Hempfield Rec Center. The latter two sites have indoor courts available.
“The Ephrata Summer Tennis Camp is free to all Ephrata Borough, Akron Borough and Clay Township residents,” said Wilson. “We use a low compression ball (red color) for the five-to-seven year olds, a bit more bounce (orange) for the eight-to-10 year olds, and 10-12 year olds (green) are closest to the standard yellow, used by the 13 and older players.”
The Ephrata Rec program has been in place for three years and will hopefully provide a reliable feeder system for the high school boys and girls teams. This summer there were 34 beginners and 13 intermediates enrolled in the program. The Rec Center’s fall guide, which comes out September 10, has information about fall instruction by Wilson, broken down into three age groups.
This season’s goals and plans for development at the high school level are modest. “To benefit the team by earning team points,” said Vargas, who acknowledged being the “old lady” on the team, as a junior.
“Everything we’ve focused on this season is forehand.” said Garman. “Once we master that, we can move to the backhand.”
The order of play for singles is determined by head-to-head play in practice. A player can move up or down by one position at a time as a “challenge” is made to the player immediately higher. The number one singles player must play number one doubles. Other than that, the coach can set the doubles lineup any way he wants.
Going forward, the Ephrata girls tennis team needs help. Budding tennis players can see a fairly easy path to a starting position on high school sports team. And that path is already in place.
Up next for the Lady Mounts are five-time L-L League and District Three champs Manheim Township tomorrow, (Thursday), followed by a trip to Section One foe Warwick on Tuesday.