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TENNIS: On the road again, and again

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Waterlogged court leaves strong Net Cat teams with no home

By John Herndon

Imagine having a basketball team making its strongest showing in years only to lose its playing floor a few weeks before March Madness.

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Or how about a baseball team only being able to use the batting cage in the weeks leading up to the post-season?

If you can comprehend a team dealing with those hypothetical scenarios, then you have a notion of what the Anderson County High School tennis teams are dealing with as regional tournament play begins on May 16.

The spring rains have separated a carpet-like playing surface from its asphalt base, rendering three of the four courts at the high school unplayable.

The Bearcat and Lady Bearcat coaches started working the phones. All matches became road matches. Sometimes all that entails is getting a bus heading to the opponent’s home court on the day of the scheduled match. Others require some maneuvering, such as last Thursday’s boys’ match at Woodford County, originally scheduled for last Monday but moved to the Woodford County Park at Falling Springs last Thursday.

Practice, however, has been another story. “We have only one court that we can practice on now,” said Cook, who doubles as Anderson’s assistant athletic director.

That means one court for the boys’ and girls’ teams combined. That is one practice area for three singles and two doubles teams for both varsity squads plus any junior varsity players.

While the facility has lagged behind most area complexes for some time, Anderson has had four playable courts. Now the teams have to make sure their schedules are in sync with each other to get the most benefit from the one court.

As for the other three courts, they have buckled and separated at several spots. Weighted bags have been put at the edges to prevent the wind from getting under the surface and blowing it off.

“About all we can do on those courts is have serving practice,” said Spivey, a former regional champion at Anderson who is in his first year coaching the sport.

Still, the Bearcats just keep rolling along as one of the Eighth Region’s surprise teams in 2011. The Anderson boys sported a 7-4 record after whipping regional rival Collins, 5-0, Friday at Clear Creek Park in Shelbyville.  Ironically, Cook and Spivey discussed the team’s progress and prospects during the Collins match, which was already scheduled to be on the road.

The Bearcats have emerged as a team that could be a darkhorse regional contender behind Oldham County, South Oldham, North Oldham and Franklin County, the region’s traditional powers. “Coming in, we knew we had some talent coming back,” Cook said. “What we didn’t know was what the rest of the region would be like.”

Through Friday, Anderson’s only losses had been to Franklin, North Oldham and Oldham County in the region and Woodford, a non-region foe. During Friday’s match at Collins, Anderson was without some of its better players, yet senior Levi Cox rolled to a 6-1, 6-4 win over John Oakley  in the No. 1 singles.

Top doubles tandem Luke Warford and Lowell Gordon ran their record to 9-2 on the season  with a 6-2, 6-1 win over Hunter Parnell and Derek Stivers while the No. 2 doubles team of Ty Glover and Joe Koonce improved to 7-1-1 with a 6-0, 6-3 win over David Harmel and John Usher. The tie coming at North Oldham when rains shortened the match.

E.J. Miller got a three-set victory – 3-6, 6-2, 7-6 – over Sam Rathke at No. 2 while Ben Spear came up from the junior varsity to whip Collins’ Cameron Morris 6-1, 6-0.

“When we played Oldham County and North Oldham, I thought we could do well, but what was surprising was that the whole team did well,” Cook said.

Part of Anderson’s success has come from more players participating, with many playing year round on Frankfort-area club teams. Part has also come from an emphasis on conditioning. “In the past, when we had a matches go three sets, we were getting tired and it was very hard to win. Now we are winning a lot of those matches,” Cook said.

And those wins have made the virtual loss of the facility one of the cruel ironies that building a winning tennis program at Anderson County involves.

“It is hard to get better,” Warford, a junior, says of the situation.
Borrowing courts at other schools, or even at nearby colleges, might seem to be a solution, but Cook noted, “Transportation is a problem with that.”

The sad irony for Anderson’s boys is that the Bearcats have fielded one of their strongest teams in several years this season, losing only once in the first half of the campaign.

“It is a bad time for this to happen,” Cook said, “But you deal with what you have to do.”