By Tom Rohrer
While the Wolves, who are led by head coach Greg Bert, sit with a losing record of 3-8 (in team play) at this point of the season, there is reason for optimism going into the sub-district and district tournaments that will take place later this month.
Bert is extremely excited about the future of the program, and for good reason, as a host of talented underclassmen, including sophomore Alesha Rebetizer and freshmen Bailey Weatherby (the number two and three singles players respectively), are being thrown into varsity roles at a young age.
“We won the league in 2008 and 2009, the district championship in 2009 and five out of last six years we’ve gone to state. With what we lost from last year’s team, we knew it was going to be tougher this year,” said Bert, who has coached the girls team at BHHS since 2001. “But we make progress every day. This is an extremely young team that will only get better with time, and at this point in the season, we’re seeing those improvements come along.”
“It’s blessing and a curse to have some of your best players be underclassmen,” Bert continued. “The fact that they have two or three more years to improve is great, and they are getting that necessary experience now.”
One of the few key contributors left over from last year’s team, which was led by state placer Julie Hansen, is senior singles player Madilyn Sayler, who sits with an 8-2 record as the Wolves number one singles option.
A second team all-league volleyball performer in the 2A Evergreen conference this past fall, Sayler had to make the transition from doubles to singles this year. While that is a tough shift in play for any caliber player, it has come smoother for Sayler. She has used her high athleticism and positive attitude to propel herself to a number three ranking in the league.
“She’s just an athlete,” Bert said. “You tell her what to do and she’ll do it.”
“I like the transition and it’s been fun to explore different parts of tennis and play from different positions,” Sayler said. “There are not many positions in doubles, so you have to be able to expand your game to the entire court. I’ve become more aware of where the ball is going.”
No longer overshadowed by players such as Hansen (who finished 6th overall at state in 2012), all the pressure falls on Sayler, as she must play tough against the top player from every school the Wolves compete against. That pressure, and the role of an underdog against year-round players, is something Sayler relishes.
“I like the pressure, it makes me raise my level of play and really just work harder,” Sayler said. “It’s tough playing against a lot of these players who play year-round. I play volleyball, perform in musicals during the winter, so I can be considered an underdog. It’s a fun roll. It’s a fun challenge.”
Sayler will certainly face more challenges later this month, as she will play in the sub-district tournament with a chance to qualify for the district tournament. She believes she can advance if she keeps a positive mindset when mistakes happen.
“With singles, it was a hard transition to the fact that every mistake was my fault and I didn’t have a partner to shoulder some of that responsibility, but I think I’ve improved on that,” Sayler said. “I need to not get into my head if I lose a point and just keep a positive attitude. If I do that, I think I can win some matches.”
That positive, hardworking attitude that Sayler displays is a blessing for the younger BHHS players and Bert.
“She’s really one of the nicest humans I’ve ever met, and just a perfect example for our program,” Bert said. “I want her mentoring the younger singles players, bonding with them, so they can develop the same attitude and skills. When your top player is your team captain and the hardest worker, it’s a coach’s dream.”
A dream for a tennis coach in Washington is a consistent streak of days where the team practices outdoors. During the early portion of the season, the Wolves would have to constantly retreat to the gymnasium for practice, as rain rendered the courts unsafe. The time inside could be considered tedious, but in fact, served a great purpose for this young Wolves team, as they we’re able to practice the fundamentals over and over again.
“There is only so much you can do inside and for a team like last year’s team, there may not have been much improvement,” said Bert. “But for this team, it was sort of like a blessing in disguise. They really practiced and tailored their strokes and you can start to see that improvement and more so their confidence on full display now.”
A teacher at Black Hills since the school opened in 1997, Bert coached the boys team until 2006 before focusing on solely leading the girls team. Blessed with a fun and hardworking group, Bert is reminded about why he got into coaching the sport in the first place.
“Unlike a lot of other sports, tennis is something you can do for life and is a lifetime sport,” Bert said. “I just like to pass that passion on to the kids. I’m blessed to have a group that just enjoys being out here, playing together, and learning the game. You could say it’s a down year for us, but any team would struggle if they lost 13 seniors. We’ve improved tremendously and believe we can still have a successful season this year and will have lots of success going forward.”
That success, when it comes, certainly won’t surprise anybody.