The Ripon High School girls’ tennis team has a lot of new faces at the varsity level this season.
But the inexperience didn’t show in the first week.
The Tigers, who lost eight varsity players from last year’s team — including all four singles players — got off to what Ripon head coach Brent Sanderfoot called “one of their best starts” as they went 3-1 in the first four duals.
They capped off the week by splitting a pair of competitions at the Kaukauna Triangular last week Friday as they defeated the host Kaukauna Ghosts 5-2 and fell in a close dual to the Fox Valley Lutheran (FVL) Foxes 4-3.
The win over Kaukauna was especially sweet for Sanderfoot as his brother, Brian, is the head coach of the Ghosts. Ripon had been 0-3 against Kaukauna during Sanderfoot’s time with the Ripon program. Sanderfoot played tennis for Kaukauna before coming to Ripon and had his brother serve as his assistant coach his final season in school.
“For the last several years he’s had the bragging rights, but it looks like I get them for the time being,” Sanderfoot said.
While the Ripon head coach’s team eventually got the best of his big brother’s squad, he noted the dual didn’t begin the best.
“We started out pretty slow during our match against Kaukauna,” Sanderfoot said. “I think the heat was starting to get to everyone. It took a bit, but we eventually got it going. I had to remind some of the players that this is their last match. I told them to give me their all for this final match and then they are done and can have the rest of the weekend to relax.”
One of the Tigers who didn’t get off to the best start, but rallied to win, was Mackenzie Whitrock. The sophomore dropped her first set 3-6, before bouncing back to win the second set 6-2 and a back-and-forth tiebreaker 10-7. Whitrock played No. 4 singles instead of No. 3 doubles due to her partner, Bella Engstrom, missing some matches due to a family vacation.
“I was extremely proud of Mackenzie at No. 4 singles,” Sanderfoot said. “... These types of wins go a long way in terms of confidence.”
Another position that showed grit and determination for Ripon was the No. 1 doubles team of Emma Mott and Lillian Schram. Mott and Schram, the two returning varsity letter winners, started out the first set down 1-4 before turning the corner and coming back to win the next five games to secure the first set 6-4.
They then took control early in the second set and cruised to a 6-2 win to win the match.
“This was an impressive comeback in the first set,” Sanderfoot said. “Everything was going Kaukauna’s way and I had my doubts that we could pull it out, but they did it. They coached themselves through that match. They remained positive and eventually things turned in their favor.”
Also winning matches in straight-sets for Ripon to help Sanderfoot win the battle of bragging rights with his brother were Guimauve Engelschenschilt at No. 1 singles (6-3, 6-3), Grace Retzlaff at No. 2 singles (6-0, 6-0) and Ava Nankervis at No. 3 singles (6-3, 6-0).
The Tigers also were competitive in the first set at No. 3 doubles as Katie Skoog and Katelyn Story dropped a tiebreaker 7-6 (3), but Sanderfoot decided to stop the match after that due to one of Ripon’s players experiencing symptoms of a migraine.
“Katelyn and Katie were playing well and it was back and forth,” Sanderfoot said. “ I think the heat and sun just started taking its toll.”
Suffering the Tigers’ other loss in the match was the No. 2 doubles team of Celina Lopez and Quinn Diedrich. It lost 4-6, 4-6.
While Ripon was able to come out on top in the team dual against Kaukauna, the same can’t be said of its match against FVL.
Sanderfoot noted the most exciting match, and the one that decided which team came away victorious, was No. 2 singles. After dropping the first set 2-6, Retzlaff regrouped and came out strong in the second to win 6-1. The match then came down to a 10-point tie break, which the Ripon coach described as “back and forth” and one that “really could have went either way.” FVL ultimately won it 10-6.
“Grace played really well and I continue to be impressed with her match strategy,” Sanderfoot said. “She has gained so much confidence since last year.”
With Retzlaff just falling short, the Tigers’ lone winner in singles play was Nankervis. The junior won at the No. 3 spot 6-2, 6-3 to improve to 4-0 on the season.
“Ava is off to an excellent start to the year,” Sanderfoot said. “Ava played mostly doubles last year on JV and has really stepped up her game. She’s really confident on the court. She plays soccer so she has excellent footwork and conditioning. She is always even keeled and doesn’t get frustrated when she makes a mistake.”
Also winning matches for Ripon against FVL was the No. 1 doubles team of Mott and Schram (6-2, 6-4), and the No. 3 duo of Lopez and Diedrich (6-2, 6-2). Sanderfoot noted that Mott and Scram are “getting better with each and every match they play together,” while he put Diedrich and Lopez together “because they are both so athletic” and he “thought they would be a natural fit and make a strong team.”
Dropping matches for the Tigers against the Foxes, in addition to Retzlaff, were Engelschenschilt at No. 1 singles (0-6, 1-6), Whitrock at No. 4 singles (2-6, 0-6) and the No. 2 doubles team of Skoog and Story (1-6, 4-6).
Ripon blanks Kewaunee
The Tigers took advantage of an undermanned Kewaunee team last week Thursday as it won 7-0 on the road to improve to 2-0 in conference. Kewaunee had only six players available for the dual and forfeited matches at No. 2 and 3 doubles as a result.
The dual marked the first varsity career win for Retzlaff as she won 6-1, 6-1 at No. 2 singles. Sanderfoot noted that the junior “played a very smart match” and “kept her opponent deep and moved her around the entire match.”
Also winning their first match of the season and their first as a duo was Schram and Mott. The top doubles team prevailed 6-1, 6-1. According to Sanderfoot, Mott and Schram “compliment each other well, they communicated really well and played extremely smart.”
Other contested wins for Ripon were recorded by Engelschenschilt at No. 1 singles (6-3, 6-3), Nankervis at No. 3 singles (6-0, 6-2) and Whitrock at No. 4 singles (6-2, 6-0). The No. 2 doubles team of Story and Skoog, and the No. 3 duo of Lopez and Diedrich won by default.
Tigers down Kiel 5-2 to open season
Ripon opened its season last week Tuesday afternoon with a 5-2 home victory over the Kiel Raiders.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better start to the season,” Sanderfoot said. “I was excited to see how the girls handled their first varsity experience and I was certainly not disappointed. You can tell the girls worked very hard this off season.”
One of the players Sanderfoot was especially proud of was Lopez. The senior, who is new to the Ripon tennis team this season after going out for volleyball her first three years of high school, won her first-ever match 7-5, 6-1 at No. 4 singles.
“She is picking up the game very quickly,” Sanderfoot said. “She’s an excellent track star who can get to any ball. She has excellent footwork and hand eye coordination.”
Joining Lopez in earning their first varsity wins in the dual against Kiel for Ripon were Engelschenschilt at No. 1 singles (6-0, 6-4), Nankervis at No. 3 singles (6-0, 6-0), Skoog and Story at No. 2 doubles (6-1, 6-0), and Whitrock and Engstrom at No. 3 doubles (6-1, 6-0).
The Tigers also were competitive in their two losses on the day to the Raiders as Retzlaff fell at No. 2 singles 1-6, 5-7 and the No. 1 doubles team of Schram and Mott were defeated 3-6, 4-6.
The Tigers will try to build on their strong start to the season Tuesday, when they travel to Kewaskum to face the Indians.
They then will return home Thursday to face Howards Grove at the Ripon High School tennis courts.
Both duals are slated to get underway at 4 p.m.