Riverton High School girls tennis coach Ryan Nelson went into the 2009 season with a small team full of big talent. Nelson took on 18 girls this year, seven less than the 25 he competed with last year, but the decision to cut back paid off with the team finishing second in region after a streak of third place region titles in years past.
“I had more opportunity to do one-on-one time [with the smaller team] and focus on the individual needs instead of trying to juggle so many girls,” Nelson said. “Last year, 25 girls were too much to handle. Those that really wanted attention weren’t getting as much as they should have.”
Nelson’s ability to give players the attention they needed led to a competitive season and a strong showing at the state tournament Oct. 8 and 10 at Liberty Park. Junior Andrea Mena competed in first singles; senior Karlie Denos competed in third singles; seniors Jessa Homer and Kelsi Oberg competed in first doubles; and sophomore Amy Saunders and freshman Brelynn Mason competed in second doubles -- though none of the girls made it past the first round. One player that didn’t make it to state but should have, in Nelson’s opinion, was senior Lindsay Bianucci who, who didn’t qualify after losing her region match.
“She worked really hard in the off-season and was a great role model to the rest of the team,” he said. “The thing I like about her is her attitude. No matter what she’s faced with, she’s positive about her experiences in life. Whatever she wants to do, she sets her mind to it and does it.”
Nelson is proud of the girls’ ability to understand their strengths and play to them but he wants to see them overcome the “Bingham stereotype.”
“Because of the name, ‘Bingham,’ and that they’ve had a lot of success in the past, the girls have a hard time [competing against them],” Nelson said. “They need to understand that they can play to their level.”
For Mena, that lesson came after she faced off against Bingham’s Morgan Musser, a junior, during a preseason match and won. “It was a really memorable match,” Nelson said. “It was long and they both played really, really well but it was nice for Andrea’s confidence level to come away with the win.”
Nelson is considering taking on even less than 18 girls next year to focus even more closely on the strongest players but is waiting to see who turns out and how hard the younger girls work in the off-season.
“Every year brings its own challenges,” he said. “Some of the girls that I think have a lot of talent and are going to step up don’t, so it’s hard to speculate until you have tryouts. I see who shows up for tryouts and prepare from there.”