Woodland girls, boys tennis teams aiming for return to state
by David Royal
Feb 25, 2014 | 592 views | 0 0 comments | 17 17 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Woodland tasted success on its boys and girls high school tennis teams last year, and coaches of both teams are pointing their players toward the hard work they believe will make a return trip possible.

The Woodland girls will field an experienced, motivated team, while the Woodland boys have a number of tennis positions to fill.

“My girls have all been working very hard in the offseason and at practices since mid-January,” head girls coach Beth Heath said. “We are coming back from qualifying for the state tournament last year with all seven starting varsity girls returning.

Playing line one singles for the third year in a row will be junior Erin Marratta, who she describes as a confident, mature, skilled player.

“Erin has gone from being terrified to step on the court with schools like John’s Creek and Allatoona (teams that finished in the top four in the state several times) her freshman year,” Heath said, “to [delivering] blistering ground strokes most girls cannot return.

“She has taken on the role of ‘leader/motivator’ for our team. She wants and expects everyone to give 100 percent. Getting the chance to play a match in the state tournament last year has given Erin, as well as the rest of my girls, a drive and determination that I love seeing.”

“They finally believe in their abilities as tennis players.”

She said Marratta is a serious student of the game.

“She participates in the Academy Program at Dellinger Park with JP Vidour,” Heath added. “He has given Erin the mechanics. She has beautiful ground strokes, slice and kick serves, and plenty of top spin when needed. She is still working on being the ‘complete’ player by developing her strategic play and her mental game.”

Woodland’s No. 2 and No. 3 singles players are Somalia Lewis and Katie Abernathy. Lewis played line 2 for the majority of the season last year while Katie played line 3. Those roles are currently reversed.

“Katie spent much of her offseason playing in USTA tournaments,” Heath said. “She has come out swinging this year and her hard work is showing. Somalia just recently joined the team after completing her swim season. She is getting her game back together.”

“Both of these young ladies are my backboard players,” she said. “They will rally with the best of them and play some of the longest points I’ve ever seen when they play against each other.”

Heath said out of 18 matches last year, eight were decided by one point. “The win/loss would come down to our line three singles player or our line two doubles team,” she said. “Our doubles teams stepped it up last year. Both brought home victories when we needed them the most.”

Playing line one doubles is the team of junior LeArian Turner and senior Susy Beltran.

“They are so used to playing [together] I think they can read each other’s mind. Susy is my shot maker, and LeArian is my risk taker,” the coach said. “Both have improved their net games and serves. I look forward to great things from these two.”

The line two doubles team includes juniors Karlie Abernathy and Alaina Ellis.

“They played together the last half of the year,” she said. “They are still working on getting to know each other on the court. Karlie is my beast on the net. She loves to intimidate opponents. Alaina is the most coachable player I have ever encountered. ‘Anything you need, coach’ is the attitude she brings to practice daily.”

Trying to break into the Woodland lineup are junior Valerie Glass, sophomore Chandler Still and freshman Ashlyn Walker.

“Valerie will have double duty working at singles and doubles,” Heath said. “Her natural left-handed spin gives her a slight advantage in singles. Chandler and Ashlyn are looking at becoming our ‘line three’ doubles team.”

Heath said she met with the team late last year to discuss its season.

“We began 1-5 before we had a five-game winning streak,” she said. “That was the point where good things started happening. I convinced some players to try doubles and others that singles was their calling. Those little changes took this team in the direction they wanted to go. They got a taste of winning and liked it. They have set a goal of going back to state this season.”

She feels it has the talent and depth to reach that goal. “They seemed to be convinced that they can do it, too,” Heath added.

Boys outlook

Kevin Tant, boys coach, said all three singles players will be returning while the doubles teams will all be fresh faces.

“I’m pleased with the amount of progress the boys have been making this year,” he said. “We’re returning our strong singles players with No. 1 Dustin Dodson, No. 2 Brandon Rutledge and No. 3 Griffin Hale.

“We’re rebuilding our doubles teams, having lost Tyler Juarez, James Lester, Dominick Kim and Grant Barker to graduation,” Tant said. “Senior Grayson Roberts will be leading the doubles teams with his partner Tanner Self, while senior Dustin Coffey and junior Skylar Henderson fill out the top seven.

“Albert McKnight will see some significant playing time over last year. I’ve also seen some good new talent in freshman Brenton Bigger and sophomore Phelan Philpot.”

The coach said last year’s team, the first in school to make the state tennis playoffs, set a high standard.

“Last year, we finished region play with only one loss,” he said. “We expect to fight for every single win again this year. Most matches weren’t very close, but we don’t discount any team that’s out there because you can have ups and downs and without proper preparation, you can come away with a loss instead of the victory. I expect some tight matches this year as many teams are fighting as hard as we are to make a showing in the region as well as state competition.”

The coach said doubles players are getting work on their skills.

“This year, I’ve been trying to focus on building up the volley skills of our doubles players so they can dominate at net rather than splitting with one up and one back,” Tant said. “The singles players are working on mixing up the ball speed along with pulling their opponents off the court with sharp angles.”

Tant said he expects a strong showing at the singles lines.

“Dustin Dodson went undefeated last year and looks to repeat this year,” the coach said. “He’s been working on getting better placement for his serve for more free points. Even with a perfect season, there are always ways to improve for the next season. Dustin will be a prime candidate for college recruiting next year, so we believe this should be his year to shine.”

He expects Rutledge to leave his imprint on the No. 2 singles position.

“Brandon had his best year and looks to increase his winning through penetrating angles and running his opponents all over the court,” Tant said. “Griffin has been generating a lot more power this year, and we’re working on control and changing the pace of the ball to confuse his opponents.”