Wildcats continue rolling along with new players, coach
FRONT ROYAL — It’s business as usual for Warren County’s girls tennis team.
The Wildcats lost four players from last year’s top six and have a new coach, but still haven’t missed a beat this season. Warren County is 7-0 and looking as sharp as the team did last season.
“It’s a big step up for everyone,” Warren County senior Bridget Backstrom said. “We went in there and are just playing like we usually do, and like the seniors in the past taught us — and we’re doing really well.”
Last year’s team advanced to the Region 3A East semifinals, and played for a berth in the state tournament, where they lost to Lafayette.
Even though the Wildcats returned only two regular starting singles players, there were others who saw playing time and were ready this season to fill in the starting spots for new coach Katie Brennen.
Backstrom played at No. 2 doubles last year and helped the Wildcats pick up a big win in the regional quarters. Last year’s No. 3 doubles team of Pearl Moore and Jamie Kitzmiller are now playing at No. 2 doubles, along with playing in the top half of the singles lineup.
“I think we communicate well. … We just have a good time when we’re playing,” Kitzmiller said of her and Moore.
The Wildcats also have a few players coming back from injury. Gabby Goodson played at No. 6 singles some last year for the Wildcats, until an injury ended her season.
She recently won the No. 6 spot back, and has been sharing time with Katie Davis for the spot. It’s the healthy competition that helps the Wildcats be so successful.
“Katie and I have been going back and forth for the No. 6 spot, I got it this time around,” Goodson said. “She’ll definitely fight me for it again.”
Alyssa Pauley said she has struggled with wrist injuries throughout her high school career, but the senior is at full strength this season and making a big impact for the Wildcats. Pauley plays at No. 4 singles and teams with Jayme Goode at No. 1 doubles.
“Its’ really amazing that I get to do that my senior year,” Pauley said of playing in both singles and doubles this season.
The Wildcats are very young at the top of their lineup. Goode has moved from the No. 4 spot to No. 1. Moore, who settled into the No. 6 spot after Goodson’s injury last year, moved to the No. 2 spot. Kitzmiller is playing at No. 3 singles.
“It was pretty awesome to get thrown in there,” Goode said of her move to the top of the ladder. “I think I’ve done really well this year. We’re really counting on wins from a lot of the lower seeds — I think they’ve done really well. They’re carrying the team really well.”
“It’s been surprising. I didn’t expect to be this high up,” Moore said. “It’s a really good experience — a lot of fun.”
Several of the players play year-round at clubs in Front Royal or Winchester, which they said helps a lot.
It also helps that the players understand what the program has been about over the last few years and wanted to keep the tradition going. One of the many keys to the tradition that has been built is how close the team is.
“We’re all really close to each other, and we all get along really well,” Goode said. “There’s not a lot of drama on our team, and everyone is really comfortable around each other.”
That’s certainly helped Brennan take over the reins from former coach Jeannie Tallent. Brennan said it’s been great stepping into such a strong program.
“As a first-year coach, I really feel like I lucked out,” Brennen said. “Coach Tallent really did a good job. These girls already have a good foundation already built. We have some room to improve, but with any team you do. These girls are very humble and modest, too.”
After the experience of advancing to the regional semis last year, the Wildcats are hungry for more. Warren County senior Danielle Vogt, who plays at No. 3 doubles, said the team hasn’t forgotten the regional experience.
“I think it’s in everybody’s mind,” Vogt said. “I think we’re not going to stop thinking about it, because we’re doing well at every match — hoping to get back there.”
Contact staff writer Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or firstname.lastname@example.org