Anthony Heiges’ teammates cheer as the senior gets ready to serve a match point to secure the victory. Every tennis player dreams of this scene, but Heiges and the rest of the Cedar Shoals tennis team did not get such an experience this season.
After many efforts to recruit players to the program throughout the pandemic, the team only rostered five girls and three boys, far below the required eight boys and eight girls needed for competition. Due to the lack of interest, the coaches cancelled the program’s matches this season. Not being able to compete in his final year of high school eligibility was a let down for Heiges.
“It was a little disappointing,” Heiges said. “I’ve only gotten to play a few matches in the past because I just joined the team last year and we were only able to get two matches in before our season was canceled.”
While some players were upset by the decision, a number of players, coaches and teachers who wanted to improve their tennis skills continued to prepare for next season. Assistant coach Reginald Mosley believes that the program’s break from competition this year was beneficial in helping the newer players improve and gain experience.
“A lot of the students actually preferred that we didn’t play this year,” said Mosley. “Most of the players that we got to come out this year were first time players, so most of them needed the full season of practice to gain skills, learn the game, and get a chance to play against each other as well as teachers from our school.”
Newer players like sophomore Coriander McGreevy are thankful for the ability to get better this season so that they can be more competitive in future matches. McGreevy played a variety of sports from soccer and softball to swimming and cross country before finding a home on the tennis team last spring. She has dedicated this untraditional season to improving her game.
“I was actually happy when I learned we weren’t playing any matches this season,” McGreevy said. “I don’t like the matches very much because they make me nervous and I still didn’t feel very confident enough in my ability to play well. A lot of the teams we compete have large teams that are very intimidating.”
On top of the limitations of virtual school, the lack of tennis facilities at Cedar plays a big role in the culture around the tennis program. The tree branch-filled tennis courts just outside Waters-Wilkins Stadium have been desolate for years as the team uses the Athens-Clarke County Tennis Center instead. The tennis center, located four miles away from the Cedar Shoals campus, allows the program to use its courts for practice and competition.
Head coach Carly Chandler believes that not having tennis courts at Cedar hasn’t affected the team’s ability to practice this season like it has in the past. However, she believes that not having usable courts on campus sends a negative message about the tennis program to Cedar students and the Eastside community.
“Especially since they (the courts on campus) are so decrepit, I think that it sends the message that tennis is not a real sport and that it’s not something anybody cares about,” Chandler said.
McGreevy agrees that traveling away from Cedar to attend practice and matches has hindered the team’s ability to recruit.
“I think that it really puts us in a difficult position,” said McGreevy. “Kids don’t realize that we have a tennis team. If we had courts or a tennis facility at Cedar then more kids would be excited to try out.”
The program has plans to address the lack of interest besides the boost they will get when the school returns to full capacity next year. Mosley believes that if each coach and player recruits a friend or two, the program will grow. He also hopes that the unique ability for tennis players to compete individually will attract students who don’t want to take on more popular team sports.
“We want to do more outreach next season,” Mosley said. “Not too many people know about the tennis team and a lot of the draw of sports is to play with friends. We want to show people that there are other options aside from the popular sports like football and basketball where you can still compete at a high level and even earn college scholarships while doing it.”
The coaches stress that any Cedar student is welcome to join the team and they are always looking for new players to improve over several seasons.
“If you start playing as a ninth grader or even an eighth grader like we had one this year, you have the potential to be a great player by the time you’re in the 12th grade,” said Chandler. “If you are even curious about the sport, come on out as an underclassmen and give it a try. After some practice, you’ll be amazing.”
As for Heiges and other seniors who are graduating this year, the tennis program welcomes Cedar graduates who want to continue to practice and test their skills against the coaches. Every year, the program has several graduates who come back to help teach the current players and build up the tennis program in the Athens community.
“My message to graduates is that they are always welcomed home,” Mosley said. “I hope players that graduate continue to get better and they are always encouraged to come by and spread their wisdom to the players and compete against me if they want to test their skills.”