East Jessamine High School tennis will have a new look this season when they take the court with former coach Vonda Horton, her brother, Ron Harper, and newly retired father, Dr. Tom Harper.
“This year I spoke to Coach¿(Daniel) Sandlin ... about kind of teaming up with my father and my sister to coach the East Jessamine high school team,” Ron said. “I knew not one of us wanted to be committed to do the entire (season for) both teams ... It also allows us to have more on-court time due to the number of kids that come out.”
Tom, a six-time tennis coach of the year at Asbury, said he believes working with his kids will be a great, beneficial opportunity for everybody because “each of us have the way we do things.”
The Jaguars are coming off of a developmental season under former head coach Andrew Pickerill.
According to Ron and Tom, that is the expectation once again as East brings in a slew of young inexperience for the coaching trio.
“We’re not going to keep beginning tennis players,” Ron said. “That’s hard because that’s been the protocol for both institutions, the East and West schools, is that they can go out and play, you can keep score and have fun playing. Well, if you want the program to be an actual competitive program, instead of just checking it off as a sport that’s coached or played, then you’re going to have to up your level of expectations, maybe get them to go out and practice, learn the game on their own at some level, then you can come in and enhance their strategies and abilities as it comes.”
Getting players that already know the game will allow the team to grow and develop those players instead of having to teach participant’s the game from the ground up.
“Hopefully with the three of us, the more on-court experience that we bring, we can quit them from standing in line and get them in actual drills and game-like situations that allow them to be better tennis players,” Ron said.
By the time of Thursday’s boys match at Lafayette, Ron said he hoped the team would consist of 14-16 total players made up of “five or six girls and seven to eight guys.”
Among that group is Taylor Harper, Ron’s son, who is now a senior at East, and is expected to lead the boys as the team’s one-seed on Thursday for a second consecutive season.
“(Taylor Harper) has a good serve, a ground stroke from the baseline, but it’s just as with anything else in tennis, it’s about consistency,” Ron said. “But he does have the temperament to play tennis. He does have really good hand-eye coordination. Football did a tremendous thing for him this year. It made him more self-aware.”
The Harpers added that Sumner Blue and Wyatt MacDonald were also among the group of boys that impressed with their early season skill-sets.
On the girl’s side, Tom said several of the girls were newcomers to the team, but sixth-grader Katie Turner and eighth-grader Casey Kibler were among the stronger of the group.
Due to the limited number of girls, Ron said the coaches are working on a configuration suitable for 12 different people, making it so the team could play two doubles and three singles.
“You could feasbily play a match with only four individuals because they would play doubles, and then three of the doubles players would play singles,” Ron said.
With the season set to begin Thursday at 5 p.m., Ron said it’s his hope that in May the player’s development from the beginning will show through, even if that means not winning a match.
“What our barometer is going to be is how each individual player comes in and how they perform from the time we started here in February, until the time that we actually go compete for the state tournament in May.”