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Thomas Nelson’s second-year tennis program is already showing signs of taking off, with a confident boys’ squad hoping to carry the Generals’ banner to a successful 2014 after taking the district team title last year.
“We definitely want to defend our district championship,” Nathan Kaissieh said.
The boys finished last year strong, with senior Derek Roby winning the district singles title and coming one win shy of a state qualifier berth, while junior twins Timothy and Nathan Kaissieh were district double runners-up, leading the Generals to the boys’ overall district team crown.
“Last year, we were firing on all cylinders,” coach Rhonda Horn said. “I see quite a bit of determination. They do have that fire.”
As a result, Horn ramped up the competition level for the boys, with some of the top nearby teams from outside the region being added on to the 2014 schedule, with an eye toward navigating the always-difficult 5th Region tournament, traditionally dominated by the Elizabethtown-area schools.
Roby, again anchoring the top boys’ singles slot, has appreciated the challenge, but it’s been a fight as he’s taken his share of lumps in the early part of the season. He says today’s trials will bring him closer to another district title and a state berth later on.
“I feel like I’ve got to get past my mental block,” he said. “I know I can. I’m just trying to build my confidence.”
Horn joked that Roby has gotten a bit of “senioritis,” which has combined with the more challenging schedule to make it tough on him. What’s missed under the surface is that the better competition is forcing Roby to play at a higher level to stay afloat against some of the best in the state, and learn and add to his game along the way.
“He has set his expectations so high, looking ahead to the regions,” Horn said. “I think now he sees he has to take one match at a time.”
Holding down the No. 2 singles spot is experienced senior Mackenzie Peterson, who gives Horn a potent combo atop the singles lineup. Will Hahn handles the No. 3 singles slot.
So far, the Kaissieh brothers have appreciated the bump in competition, and have thrived in the process, with horn crediting new assistant Jose Lopez — a player and tennis academy instructor in his native Spain — for helping the twins improve their game.
“Right now, we’re undefeated, so our goal is going throughout the whole season undefeated, and winning districts and making a run through regions,” Timothy Kaissieh said.
Landing the Thomas Nelson program’s first berths in the state tournament is also high on the list, Roby and the Kaissieh brothers agreed.
“I feel pretty confident we’ll be able to compete — really compete — in the regions,” Horn said. “I really look for the (Kaissieh) boys and Derek to vie for a region title.”
Jared Sims and Austin Nance handle No. 2 doubles, and seniors Cody Bales and Jeremy Cox are expected to fill roles as well.
On the girls’ side, Horn has found another competitor she hopes is poised for big things.
Freshman Nada Kaissieh emerged as the top girls’ singles player, toughened up from years of practicing against her brothers and other boys, and getting better any way she can.
“Last year as an eighth-grader, I was very nervous,” she said.
Now, in her early-season matches, she’s finding it easier going as she improves her game. She said her opponents don’t strike the fear in her they used to when she steps out onto the court in girls’ high school matches.
“I have a lot of confidence now,” she said. “You’re more intimidated by guys.”
Horn loves the younger Kaissieh’s smooth groundstrokes and footwork.
“She’s the Cinderella story,” the coach said.
Shelby Bales and Loren Schuler are at No. 1 doubles after being the girls’ No. 2 squad last year, and seniors Morgan Ford and Morgan Wherry complement each other well in the other doubles’ slot. Senior Amber Pate, the No. 2 singles player, has fought through an injury early, while Asja Karacic is also in the singles mix.
The weather has been an obstacle to building consistency, Horn said, but the players have shown dedication in getting on the court whenever possible — cold, snow, rain or otherwise. But the team has good support from parents and fans, and a family-type atmosphere among the team has helped as well.
“That kind of perseverance, it’s always rewarded,” she said.