WARREN_RICH

Warren County’s Aimee Rich returns a forehand during practice last season. Rich was one of five senior leaders on this year's squad.

Even though the season was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Warren County's five seniors on the girls tennis team all came together in the preseason and led the way.

Warren County girls tennis coach Melissa Behanna said the five seniors – Rylee Jenkins, Madison Mosser, Aimee Rich, Clara Vasallo and Holly Watkins – all showed good leadership for a young squad.

"It was really cool to see them kind of come together as a group of seniors," Behanna said. "Although not all of them have all played all four years together, they really were great encouragers of the younger girls as well as good role models, really good role models on and off the court. They're all really great girls and always striving to be the best in what they do. On the court playing and even with their school work and stuff they're all pretty high achieving in what they do in school as well. So I think that they were good role models for the younger girls."

Rich has played at the No. 1 singles spot for the last two years and said that she's had many great memories with the team in her four seasons.

"We've gone out to eat together," Rich said. "We've gone bowling together and done activities like that. So I think just bonding with all the other girls is probably my biggest memory."

Rich said one of the best bonding experiences she had was having what the team called "cupcake wars."

"At the end of the year we always have a big cupcake war for senior night," she said. "That's always really fun. Some of the tennis moms bring in cupcakes and then we just go to town and throw them at each other."

Rich said she started out playing at the No. 6 spot as a freshman and worked her way up to the top spot her junior year and she was proud of how hard she worked to get there.

"I made No. 6 (singles) my freshman year and that was a big accomplishment for me," Rich said. "I was on the ladder as a freshman, the youngest on the team. Then I was No. 1 last year and this year. I think my growth from year-to-year has been very noticeable when you get into matches. When you're practicing you don't notice it as much but when you actually get around to playing then you notice how much more prepared you are to face certain opponents."

Rich said that ever since she was a sophomore she tried to be more of a leader for the team.

"When I got up into the No. 2 position, even as a sophomore I felt like I could do a lot more in terms of helping the other girls learn," Rich said. "But also just being there in general, like if anyone needed someone to talk to. I wanted to feel like that I was always open and friendly and willing to just teach and hang out with somebody if they needed it. I've always tried to be like that, tried to be a good influence."

Rich said that her favorite part of the game isn't hitting a certain shot or serving, it's the mental side of things.

"There's a saying that tennis is 90 percent mental, and I think that's pretty true," Rich said. "There's only so much hitting and power that you can put into the physical aspect of it. But learning strategy and learning how to handle pressure situations and just that mental aspect of it has always been my biggest challenge and my favorite one."

Behanna said that Jenkins was only in her second year playing on the team and was slated to play at No. 4 singles this season. Behanna said that Jenkins had really been showing improvement.

"Rylee, she came out last year and then she really just kind of stepped it up," Behanna said. "She just stepped onto the court last year for the first time. She was a softball player. So she had a little bit of a hard time adjusting at first, but she really got the hang of hitting a tennis ball rather than a softball, and moved her way up the ladder this year. She really just started to come into this new sports venue. She was pushing really, really hard to be a higher seed this year. She really was just giving it her all, and she was really excited just to kind of step forward in her senior season as a tennis player."

Behanna said that Watkins brought energy to the team and kept the players laughing and having a good time.

"Holly just really has been a constant since I started coaching, and has just been an awesome team player," Behanna said. "She's a really great tennis player and really always has the team laughing, and has always been like this positive person on the team. She's always got something to keep everyone smiling, which is a really positive and awesome thing about her."

Behanna said that Mosser came out for the team last year and had showed improved skills.

"Madison Mosser also is someone who just stepped onto the court last year as well," Behanna said. "She's become a good player and continued to try to work toward being better. Just like with Holly (Watkins), her and Holly were like partners in crime. They always had something funny or goofy to say, something to keep us all laughing and keep us all positive."

Vasallo was an exchange student from Italy and he was always cheering the other players on, Behanna said.

"Clara was just this sweet and positive girl," Behanna said. "She came out this year. I think she played some prior to this but as far as playing on a team this was her first year. She was always super, super encouraging to the rest of the girls. So as we were going through the practices if any of the girls ever got down, she was like 'no you're doing really great, keep it up.' She was kind of like our team cheerleader as well as an improving athlete herself with each practice."

Rich said she plans to attend the University of Virginia in the fall and hopes to play tennis at the club level there.

She said she's learned a lot from tennis that she can take with her to college and beyond.

"Learning how to kind of control your anger or your frustration or your emotions in a tough situation," Rich said of what's she's learned the most. "Not even just tennis, but in sports in general really teach that better than anything else."

Contact Tommy Keeler Jr. at tkeeler@nvdaily.com