Regional TeamBy Brad Haeck
(Note: Regionals for high school girls tennis was scheduled for this week. With six of its top seven players returning from last year’s regional-winning team, Plymouth would have been favored to repeat, with aspirations of moving even further along the state tournament this year. Head coach Brad Haeck recently penned a letter to his team and has agreed to share it with the Pilot News.)
This has taken me a while to write. For a few days after (the season was officially cancelled), I think I was just in a state of denial, which has in turn lasted several weeks. I just hurt for our kids. I hurt for our parents. I hurt for our school. I hurt for our community. The whole situation just hurts. Period.
In the days prior, I knew the dominoes were falling. I just didn’t imagine it would actually happen. On April 2, the spring sports season was cancelled and I was devastated. I truly was. I was devastated for myself. But even more so, I was devastated for our kids. I was so excited for this spring season. Ever since a 4-1 semi-state loss to Top 5 Munster last season, I’ve been excited for this season. Going into my 15th year as the head coach of the PHS girls tennis team, I was as excited as I’ve ever been going into a season.
After coming off an NLC co-championship, along with sectional and regional championships, our expectations were very high. We only graduated two of our top 13 players from last year’s 17-4 team. And only one of our top seven. We returned all three singles players, all of which received all-conference recognition last season (senior Kyla Heckaman 18-8 at 1S, junior Miranda German 20-5 at 2S and NLC champ, sophomore Aubrey Vervynckt 25-1 at 3S and NLC champ). Half of our NLC runner-up and honorable mention NLC 1D team returned (senior Audie Plothow 22-4 at 1D) and our NLC runner-up 2D team returned as well (seniors Sydni Weir and Olive Stanton 14-4 at 2D together).
After having a relatively inexperienced team each of the last two years, we were ready to start the season with a plethora of talent and experience. We even had several seniors ready and capable of stepping into that last varsity playing position – Alaina Clady, Alexa Orozco, Kenzie Snyder, Fernanda Cortes, Erin Renneker, and Jocelyn Draper.
We have 10 seniors. That’s unheard of in tennis. This is the best senior class I’ve seen at PHS in 15 years. Definitely in quantity, but perhaps in quality as well. Not only that, they are a special group of individuals and personalities. This group has been fun to coach and they have made practices the last few years very enjoyable. Their development as tennis players and as human beings has been fun to watch. They are a hard-nosed, selfless group. They were excited to see the “fruits of their labor” pay off with a great senior experience. We don’t get to see that and none of them get to experience that.
I hate all of this. I hate it for our whole team, but I especially hate it for these seniors.
Kyla Heckaman brings just enough sass to keep things interesting, but brings the desire, respect, and a work ethic to drive the entire team. Kyla was the best returning player in the NLC and had a great opportunity to be Plymouth’s first conference champion at 1S since Aly Neidlinger in 2005. Kyla is extremely motivated and always wanted to be pushed. She is one of the most coachable players I’ve ever had the privilege to coach. It’s no wonder she has improved so much as a tennis player and competitor over the last four years. She always peaked at the end of the season. I was excited to see her take her game to another level again this year, but will settle for following her tennis career at Bethel University this fall. Congrats Bethel, you are getting a great one.
Record-wise, Audie Plothow will finish with one of the highest winning percentages for doubles at PHS in quite some time. That’s saying a lot. Audie has put a lot of time and effort into tennis, which makes losing this season even more heartbreaking for her. She was set up for a great senior season. An underrated athlete and competitor, Audie hates to lose. I think Audie has been underestimated by many throughout her career, but she always seemed to thrive on that. Her leadership and intangibles will be missed. Once again, Bethel University is getting a great one, and hard worker.
One of the unique characters of the group, Sydni Weir brings a personality all her own and handshakes/fist bumps that are second to none. She is a hard worker who brings tremendous effort and determination. Sydni has been a slow starter and fast finisher each of the last two seasons, improving each and every day out on the courts. Sydni has incredible tennis potential that we never got to fully tap into. She’s just a competitor and a winner. Her game and her presence will be missed next year.
Another unique personality and sense of humor, Olive Stanton always provided some comic relief when we needed it. A great teammate who was always very helpful in practice, Olive practices helpfulness and selflessness on a daily basis. She loves her team and her teammates and her energy is infectious. Olive really came into her own last season, and I was excited to see her take more steps forward in her tennis game this year. We will miss her personality, her encouragement, her smile … and her unique fist bumps as well.
Alaina Clady has struggled with inconsistency over the past two years, but is a physically and mentally gifted athlete who was set up for a great senior year. She improved some skills and developed more consistency last season and was ready to make an incredible impact on our team. Our “gentle giant”, Alaina is physically imposing on the outside, but so sweet, polite, and respectful on the inside. She cares so much about her team, her teammates, and her coaches… and it shows. I will miss all of that, and her, next season.
Alexa Orozco has the kindest heart and a smile of gold. She is one of the nicest, most sincere, and most selfless people I’ve ever met. Truly a great “teammate” when you look up its definition in the sports dictionary. She would do anything for any of her teammates, and probably for any of her opponents as well. A fantastic encourager, Alexa is the first person behind a teammate’s court encouraging them as they play. She brings a strong work ethic and a game that has progressed over the last three years. We will miss her servant leadership and positive mental attitude the most next year.
‘Slow and steady wins the race’, but reliable and steady wins tennis matches… and the respect of your teammates and coaches. Steady is the best word to define Kenzie Snyder. She brings effort and consistency to all that she does. Kenzie is a talented and skilled tennis player who earned a varsity letter last year without playing on the team as a freshman or sophomore. Pretty impressive. She was poised to contribute to our team in many ways this season. Every team needs a couple of “rocks” to lean on and Kenzie was one of ours.
The runner-up for the prestigious Lilly Endowment Scholarship, Fernanda Cortes is a true success story for our tennis team. Through her positive mental attitude and strong work ethic, Fernanda has come from a struggling low-level JV player to a successful high-level JV player over the course of three seasons. Her development as a tennis player has been a pleasure to watch, as has her increased confidence. She always has a smile on her face, finds ways to lift up her teammates, and just loves being a part of the team. I admire her selflessness and her teammates do too.
Another player who came out for the team as a junior, Erin Renneker brings natural athletic talent and intensity to our team. She can be a firecracker, but everyone loves firecrackers. She improved tremendously in her only season, and I was excited to see what she could do as an encore performance this year. I will miss the natural energy and enthusiasm she brings to her court – and everyone’s else court as well.
Jocelyn Draper came out for the team last year and has meshed really well with her teammates. Jocelyn is lower on our challenge ladder, but worked hard last season to improve as the year progressed. She brings cheer and a smile for her teammates each and every day. I just think Jocelyn was excited for another opportunity to be a part of this special group, and we were excited for another season with her as well.
While Avery Christy was not planning on playing tennis this spring, I wanted to mention her with this group because she has made a significant impact on our team the last three years. Avery is a two-year letterman who capped off a tremendous sophomore season with a JV NLC championship at 1S. She has brought tennis skills to our team, and was always a pleasant, respectful, and caring teammate. She’s a hard worker and I’m excited to see her excel on the volleyball court at DePauw over the next four years.
Set the record straight
Over the last three years, this senior class has helped our varsity team accumulate a 56-13 overall record, two NLC tournament championships, two overall NLC conference championships, three sectional championships, and two regional championships – one of the best three-year stretches in Plymouth tennis history. And this year’s team may have been the best. Not just the best out of that stretch, but perhaps the BEST EVER.
This senior class also works hard in the classroom. Alaina, Fernanda, Jocelyn, Alexa, Erin, and Olive all qualified for Indiana Coaches of Girls Sports Association (ICGSA) Academic All State. Alaina, Alexa, and Fernanda qualified for Indiana High School Tennis Coaches Association (IHSTeCA) Academic All State. And eight of the 10 PHS representatives for Academic All-NLC have played tennis in their high school career: Alaina, Fernanda, Kyla, Alexa, Erin, Olive, Avery, and (Girls Manager/Boys Player) Hugh Smith.
Awards aplenty
Smith was also awarded the prestigious Lilly Endowment Scholarship this year. Our other girls team manager, Grant Houin, has signed to play tennis at Trine. Alexa was the only student athlete in Michiana to be named a Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Scholarship Semifinalist. Alaina was one of 13 student athletes in Indiana awarded with a C. Eugene Cato Scholarship this year. Fernanda was awarded the Cox Civic Scholarship from Indiana University, which covers full cost of attendance. Incredible.
On top of that, the girls tennis team swept the three major female PHS Athletic Awards this year. Kyla was awarded the Kizer Award for best female athlete in the senior class. Alaina was awarded the Guild Mental Attitude Award and Kyla was the recipient of the Plymouth Athletic Booster Club (PABC) Scholar Athlete Award. The accolades just keep coming in for this group.
As the weeks have gone by, there are so many things I’ve missed about this group. Even more than success on the courts, I’ve just missed the time together. I’ve missed the bond that our teams share. I’ve missed the camaraderie. I’ve missed the excitement of winning a big match. I’ve even missed the trials. I’ve missed all of it, because we did it all together.
While the worst may be over, I urge you to continue to check in on your family members, friends, neighbors, and seniors. I’m disappointed I wasn’t able to coach them this season, but these seniors are even more disappointed that they didn’t get an opportunity to chase after some lofty goals this spring. Let’s all continue to be great teammates. Not just to our PHS teammates, but to those in our community and in other communities as well. Let’s put WE > ME to good use. Together, we will get through this and we will all be stronger for it.
I recently reread a quote from Tim Tebow that says, “Success is about you. Significance is about your impact on others.” There was great opportunity for these seniors to have a world of SUCCESS this season, but beyond that, I have no doubt they would have had tremendous SIGNIFICANCE on others as well.
This situation isn’t fair. None of it is. But sometimes life just doesn’t seem fair. Life will go on and these seniors will go on to have great SIGNIFICANCE in their futures, and make a tremendous impact on others. I know this is true, because they have had a tremendous impact on me.
Girls: I love you, I miss you, and I’m praying for all of you.
Coach Haeck