The Rolla tennis team has been dealt a tough schedule for their first week of the season, but they have the benefit of having a little bit of experience on their side as they try to work through it. The Lady Bulldogs opened their season with three straight road matches against a very talented Hickman team, a consistent District Champion in Jefferson City and a close match against Richland.
While they're still yet to find that first win, they've played well thanks to returning a bulk of their lineup. Unfortunately, the two players they lost to graduation, Anna Kaczmarek and Ashanti Owusu-Brafi, were both in the top four. The biggest adjustment for a lot of Rolla players has been adjusting to new roles. Rolla's top returning player is Rachel Butz and she's been forced to play against some elite talent early in the season as the Lady Bulldog's number one singles player and on their number one doubles team. Head coach Joe Schisler thinks she'll be able to find a few more wins as she adjusts to being the top dog.
"At one you're always going to have a solid opponent and she's almost always going to play in that one doubles spot, so that's two chances to pick up points," said head coach Joe Schisler. "Whoever your number one is, if they can be an instrumental part in you getting half of those points, that's a big big deal.
"I think (she'll be able to adjust to being the number one). Number one, Jefferson City was the District Champion and their number one player was the number one player in our District," continued Schisler. "Then the young lady from Hickman was a very solid player. Truthfully, I'm not sure if you put the girl from Richland against the girl from Hickman she wouldn't win. Just very high quality opponents. As we go through the season, we're not going to see everyone that has a number one like that."
Behind Butz at number one is Laura McCutcheon. McCutcheon was a steady number three last season and is making the jump two number two this season. Coach Schisler particularly likes how McCutcheon and Butz have played together in doubles so far.
"She was kind of in that position at three/four last year and this year number two is another step up and when you play two, you're typically going to play at one doubles," said Schisler. "I think we saw on Thursday night that she and Rachel played a fantastic doubles match...I think a lot of her leadership will be in doubles and I think a lot of her leadership is just she does whatever needs doing in terms of effort, in terms of practice, in terms of leadership. She's very important, just a key player to getting things done."
One of the surprises for coach Schisler has been two of the girls who filled in the rest of the top four. Olivia Burken and Rylee Kriete went from playing a little bit of varsity last year to jumping into the three and four singles spots, as well as taking over as the number two doubles team. They actually leapt over some players who saw more time at the five and six spots last season.
"We lost two of our top four and right now, with our challenges, Rylee Kriete and Olivia Burken have filled in those spots, but really we're pretty competitive at three, four, five, six, seven and eight," said coach Schisler. "In fact, both those players at three and four jumped over last year's five and six. I was really surprised by Rylee Kriete and Olivi Burken in where they jumped up in the ladder."
Coach Schisler has also seen some great improvement out of his five, Shannon Chan, and one of his girls he's tried at number six, Anne Christine (AC) Schultz.
"It doesn't show in where she's played on the ladder, but Shannon Chan, her strokes and the things she's done. She was a brand new player last year and her strokes and the number of things she can do and her knowledge of the game has just gone through the roof," said Schisler. "Also we have AC Schultz, who was an exchange student. She was in another country last year, but she played as a sophomore. She filled in at number six on Thursday last week and got a win for us."
While Rolla's experience from last season hasn't paid off with a win yet, coach Schisler is confident that his team will be able to get settled now that they're out of the gauntlet of their early season road schedule.
"I think (their experience from last year) is really important. I don't know that that makes a big difference when you're playing a competitor that's considerably above you, but when it comes to the really close matches I think it does make a difference," said the Rolla head coach. "I think as we kind of settle into our season and we get out that travel to really highly talented teams, we're gonna get our feet under us."
The Lady Bulldogs will finally return to their home courts when they welcome Camdenton into town on Tuesday, Sept. 5. This will be the first time Rolla will get to play a match on their recently resurfaced courts.
"A home match just kind of always settles players in," said coach Schisler. "Just having our home match and our home crowd and having friends here watching and be able to relax and play tennis sometimes is when you really do your best."
The new courts also give Rolla the chance to potentially host a District match, which they weren't able to do last season because their courts were deemed ineligible for District play. It gives the Lady Bulldogs something to strive for and could give them a bump this postseason.
"Having that rule change was a big deal. You have to have to constantly be on the road. I'm willing to say last week, if Thursday (against Richland) was a home match, we probably win that match 5-4. It really does make that big a difference," said coach Schisler. "So we're really looking forward to maybe some home matches during the Districts week. That would be a nice change of pace for these girls. It'll be fitting too because we're gonna play on the road a lot. I think seven of our 11 matches are on the road."
Coach Schisler is optimistic about his team moving forward. He doesn't like to set expectations, but if the Lady Bulldogs can get themselves on the opposite side of the bracket at Jeff City, they'll have a shot to compete in Districts.
"As much as anything right now, we're working on advancing so many young players in their knowledge of the game and how to compete and how to have fun doing it," said Schisler. "I would be lying if I said I expect us to be in the District Final, but I think everyone's attitude is 'let's do everything we can to make the right side of that District semi-final and see what happens.
"The bottom side of the bracket, I wouldn't say it's open, there are definitely some favorites in there, but you'd always rather face a two than a one," added Schisler."
Rolla's next three matches will come against District opponents in Camdenton, Sedalia and Lebanon.