Break point

Coming off back-to-back state finals appearances, the girls tennis program is looking to start West High’s newest dynasty with a blend of experience and young talent.

While Gross plans to retire from coaching in the near future, head coach Amie Villarini and the girls tennis team are just getting started.

Villarini, a ’97 West grad, took over the girls tennis program in 2013 from guidance counselor Kay DiLeo, eager to enhance her players’ mental approach to the game.

“I was just trying to come in and maintain that winning tradition, if anything maybe adding to it a little more,” Villarini said. “Some of the things that I’ve added which we’ve never done in the past … is actually taking videos of the players and their matches and using Hudl and doing video analysis.”

Watching film is just one part of what Villarini refers to as “commanding the court.” In singles matches, being a strong and confident player is crucial in order to dictate the style of the match, something newcomer Ella DeYoung ’23 has been working towards for her freshman season.

“Being confident with your game is something I’ve really been trying to work [on],” DeYoung said. “Just playing my game and being aggressive, coming up to the net and things like that.”

Being confident with your game is something I’ve really been trying to work [on]. Just playing my game and being aggressive, coming up to the net and things like that.”

— Ella DeYoung '23

With DeYoung and the rest of the varsity team playing club tennis, Villarini places a lot of her trust in the hands of the Hawkeye Tennis Academy’s [HTA] instructors to prepare her players for the season. The team also benefits from the availability from the HTA’s indoor courts for practice when the weather is inclement.

“I usually stay away from the technique because [the Academy is] coaching the players in their private lessons and stuff,” Villarini said. “I’ll tweak certain techniques things if I notice them, [but] I’m really focused on strategy and the mental side of the game.”

Since Villarini’s hiring in 2013, the program steadily rose in production, culminating in a team state championship in 2018. Captain Jessica Moonjely ’20, who scored the final winning point, and juniors Caroline Chandler and Audrey Koch remember that championship feeling and are certainly eager to reclaim the title in 2020.

“It was a really great feeling, and it was also the year that I was on the same team as my sister Emma [Koch ’19],” Koch said. “A couple of the girls on that team I had grown up with, so [that] definitely made it super special. Having that feeling definitely gives you something to work for.”

Unlike Gross’ dynastic program, few fans outside of West expected the Women of Troy to win the title over Ames in 2018, and even more were surprised to see the team return to the state final in 2019 for a rematch with their top player injured.

After back-to-back finals appearances, Villarini’s well-kept secret is out now. With three talented freshmen accompanying DeYoung on next year’s varsity team, the rest of the state will be put on notice soon enough. This team has talent, experience and, most importantly, they know they belong.

“I think we have pretty high expectations for ourselves, especially after falling a little bit short last year to Ames and it came down to tiebreakers,” Koch said. “I definitely think we have a little bit of a chip on our shoulder.”

I think we have pretty high expectations for ourselves, especially after falling a little bit short last year to Ames and it came down to tiebreakers. I definitely think we have a little bit of a chip on our shoulder.”

— Audrey Koch '21

Unfortunately, the girls will have to wait until next season to make their statement at the high school level. Amid the COVID-19 outbreak, all spring sports have been cancelled.

“These are just really unprecedented times, historic times,” Villarini said. “We’re learning a lot about ourselves as humanity, about what’s important and what we take for granted.”