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Roncalli tennis team has blend of experience, youth

Aberdeen Roncalli girl’s tennis coach Jason Haskell, center, leads a dribbling drill during practice Tuesday on the Northern State University tennis courts. Photo by John Davis taken 8/2/2022

Aberdeen Roncalli returns four of its top six players, but the Cavaliers will still be an extremely young girls’ tennis squad this season.

The team does not have a senior and just one junior, Anna Mitzel who played at number six singles last season. While the Cavaliers do have solid numbers, most of the players are middle schoolers who don’t have a lot of experience.

“We’re fairly weak in our upperclassmen, we’re short numbers there, but we do have a lot of interest in the younger girls, so that’s nice to see,” said Roncalli coach Jason Haskell. “It’s exciting for the future of tennis at Roncalli and Aberdeen Christian.”

The two schools form a cooperative in tennis.

While the squad will need to fill its top two spots from a year ago, it does have some experienced players in twins Raley and River Haskell, and Katherine Kretchman, all sophomores.

“They’ve been around tennis for a while, they’ve been around our program for a while,” Coach Haskell said. “Although they’re all sophomores, they’ve still been in tennis for quite a while.”

That said, the Cavaliers still figure to be a work in progress this upcoming season.

“We’re a young team,” Coach Haskell said. “We’re in kind of rebuilding phase, but we’ll get there.”

Even though on paper the team returns the bulk of its lineup from a year ago, the spots are far from set, according to Haskell, who was the previous head coach before serving as assistant last season.

“There’s nothing established at this point. They’re young girls,” he said. “A lot of things happened from one year to the next and we’ll reevaluate this next week or so here.”

That means there could be some new doubles tandems as well.

“We’ve had a little bit of a shift in some of the skill dynamics, so I’m not exactly sure who’s going to be with who, but we’ll put them together on the court and see where they shake out.”

Aberdeen Roncalli girl’s tennis coach Jason Haskell, center, breaks down a huddle with his players at the start of practice Tuesday on the Northern State University tennis courts. Photo by John Davis taken 8/2/2022

The Cavaliers get a quick start to their season, traveling to Huron for a dual on Tuesday.

The players had a couple of practice days battling the heat and humidity this past week. By the time the season ends, they will likely be trying to find ways to stay warm.

“South Dakota: you get snow early, you get wind almost all the time, and you could have heat or humidity, so we start our season at 100 degrees and we usually end it at around 30,” Coach Haskell said. “We know that’s what we’ve got here in South Dakota. The girls just get used to it.”

While some of the Cavaliers do have varsity match experience, others have very little. Haskell said a key will be getting those younger players some matches so they can establish some confidence in their skills.

“We’ve just got a couple girls that need to grow into their game a little bit, yet. There’s still some confidence that needs to come and I think if we get some matches under our belt and get out there playing, we can see some of that start to flourish,” Coach Haskell said. “Hopefully, by the end of the season everyone will have advanced a little bit.”

Haskell said he doesn’t really have any goals for the girls for the upcoming season. He just wants them to have a good experience with the game and grow as players for the future.

“We’ve got at least one solid year of trying to figure out where we’re at,” he said, “and then hopefully they all come back next year and we start building our way towards a stronger Roncalli athletic program.”

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