HOLMEN — Natalie Stitt is typically much more prepared for the first day of tennis practice.
The Holmen High School junior has spent most of her spring and summer months playing the sport she loves three or four times a week. She plays with friends and works with coaches, making the activity a pleasant mix of fun and hard work.
Stitt didn’t think she was in the tennis shape she desired when the Vikings met for the first practice of the season on Monday, but she didn’t let that stop her from appreciating the moment.
More than five months after the WIAA halted the winter sports season and roughly four months after it canceled the spring sports season, some fall sports got rolling Monday, and Stitt’s was one of them.
“Just hearing about the possibility of a fall season was so exciting,” she said as teammates practiced on the courts outside of Viking Elementary School. “I missed being part of a big team and being out here playing with them.”
The Vikings returned to the court with 19 players, and first-year coach Sarah Wengerter said the number could climb into the mid- or high-20s soon. That will help Holmen in its effort to improve on last season’s sixth-place finish in the MVC.
Wengerter, a teacher at Viking Elementary, played at Pulaski High School near Green Bay. She spent last season as an assistant coach to Frank Menolascino, who is now her assistant.
Wengerter thinks her experience as a player can help her transition into the new position and expand her understanding of players she got to know last year.
“I use a lot of what I learned from my high school coaches and really how they built a team,” said Wengerter, who has 11 juniors on her team. “We focus on drills but have fun with it.
“As far as competitiveness, I played with and against a lot of fantastic players, so that gave me some good experiences to share with the girls.”
Stitt returns for her third season as the team’s No. 1 singles player. She qualified for a WIAA Division 1 sectional match as a freshman before having her sophomore year ended in the sub-section tournament.
Junior Delaney Gelder is also back after playing No. 2 singles as a sophomore and earning honorable mention to the All-MVC team.
Stitt, an All-MVC first-teamer, won 13 matches as a freshman and 11 as a sophomore playing in the toughest spot of the lineup, but that’s just where she wanted to be. Stitt wants to play the best competition she can find to improve in a sport she has loved since her parents signed her up to play as a youngster in Southern California.
The Stitts moved to Wisconsin to be closer to family a few short years ago, and her placement at No. 1 singles right out of the gate made for an interesting transition.
“When I got put in there, I was playing a lot of players who had known each other for a long time,” Stitt said. “They had been playing each other for years, and I didn’t know anything about anyone, so it took some time to learn what I needed to know.”
The key to moving her game forward, Stitt said, is improvement on the mental aspects of a match. Putting bad shots behind her can be an issue, and getting past that could go a long way in her success at the end of the season.
“Last year, I got down on myself sometimes,” she said. “I would get down right away if I missed on a shot. I have to play a smarter game and remember that it’s not always how hard to hit the ball but where you place it and anticipating what comes next.”
Wengerter said Stitt has helped the team as a leader as much as she has with her ability on the court.
“She’s a huge leader for us and gives the team a lot of positive energy,” Wengerter said. “As a player, she’s fantastic.
“There is a lot of self reflection after each shot, and there is always talk about little things to do better or adjustments to make during changeovers. She listens to those because she wants to get better with each shot.”
Sports editor Todd Sommerfeldt can be reached at email@example.com or via Twitter @SommerfeldtLAX
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