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Nelson County tennis coach Rick Zielke has his work cut out for him this season, having to replace both No. 1 singles performers from last year.
Complicating matters has been an uncooperative run of unpredictable spring weather, making the learning curve difficult for a squad he describes as “young and new.”
“We haven’t had a lot of practice time,” the second-year Cardinal coach said. “It’s just going to take time to get that experience and confidence level built up.”
A huge hole is left behind atop girls’ singles with the loss of Savannah Wimsatt, a two-time district champion. Other graduation losses and other defections have led to an inexperienced girls’ squad, but it’s not one void of leadership.
Seniors Alicia Bedolla and Kara Girdley have embraced those roles, Zielke said.
“I’ve been really trying to build up our team so that when all the seniors graduate” there’s somebody to carry the banner forward, Bedolla said. “We’re working on recruiting (new players) and helping the team get better.”
Bedolla has “taken the girls’ singles No. 1 spot and ran with it,” Zielke said, and Morgan Thompson has stepped up as an eighth-grader to claim the No. 2 spot.
Girdley joins with fellow senior Abby McKim to grab the top doubles spot. Others in the mix include juniors Gianna Cesare and Alyssa George, as well as senior Olivia Cundiff.
Several holdovers populate the boys’ roster, but the graduation of Joseph Cesare, last year’s top singles player, has left a void.
Junior Nick Browning and sophomore Hoover Hockensmith are in the top two singles spots, while Senior Brendan Matthews will compete at singles and doubles, as will sophomore Jacob Newton.
The doubles side is where the boys have their most experience, with stalwarts such as junior David Chan — who switches back after experimenting in singles last year — and senior Daniel Spalding teaming up for one squad. Senior Drew Martin and junior Derrick Zielke, the coach’s son, man another doubles team.
“We’ve just started getting to where we’re in more of a rhythm,” Martin said. “We’re starting to get in the flow.”
But it hasn’t been easy, he said, with the weather complicating things.
“It’s been pretty difficult,” he said. “We try to come out and work every day of the week.”
That strain on practice time has slowed the progress, Bedolla said, but progress has been made.
“We’ve really been working on getting more and more structure in our practice, and I really feel like it’s helped us overall,” she said.
Rick Zielke said his team has struggled in cold-weather matches and hopes the team’s fortunes will rise with mercury as spring takes hold for good.
“I’ve seen drastic improvement,” he said, but confesses it has been sporadic, a common characteristic of an inexperienced team finding its way.
That the team has bonded well has helped a great deal.
“They’ve gelled together,” Zielke said. “It’s so much fun to be on a bus with them.”