PUNXSUTAWNEY — Tennis is a sport that is most often considered an individual one, except in the case of doubles, but Punxsy girls' tennis coach Rose Graffius is using the so-called individual sport to instill lessons about teamwork in her girls this year.
Entering her fourth year as Punxsy's girls' tennis coach, Graffius is optimistic about the way her girls are playing, despite limited practice so far.
"Things are going really well," she said. "We're working hard in practice. The girls are trying all the suggestions I give them, and even though we've only practiced three times: So far, so good."
After losing four seniors from last year's team, all of whom typically played in the top-four singles' spots, it will be a bit of a rebuilding year, but that doesn't mean that the team's goals aren't lofty.
"We're looking forward to a good season," Graffius said. "I tell the girls that win or lose, we have our integrity. Ultimately, our goal is to improve on our season from last year. We'd like to win, we'd like to be District 9 champs, and we'd like someone to go on to states."
High hopes don't mean winning is Graffius' only concern, though.
"I also want the girls to have fun and enjoy it so that when they get older they still want to play and get that exercise," she said.
The team will consist of nine returning players and new players from each class from freshman to senior, including two new seniors. But even the seniors who are returning don't have much court time playing singles. At this point, the competition is open for the top spots.
With tennis having the feel of an individual sport, Graffius may have to work a little bit harder to teach her girls the teamwork lesson.
"It makes it a bit different," she said. "Individually, you have to deal with corrections in each person's strokes. Overall, you can coach their technique, but then you need to look individually, as well. You also have to look at winning strategies. So you're coaching them individually but also as a team."
Graffius points out that, in the end, the teamwork aspect isn't really that different from other sports.
"Ultimately, we want to look at it as a team effort, because your individual result affects how the team does," she said. "Actually, that's how everyone on the field in other sports works, too. Even though you're on the court individually, what you're doing really matters to the team."
Unlike other sports, which are assigned officials, high school tennis is a self-policed sport. There are no referees, and the players are assigned the responsibility of calling their own shots and keeping their own scores, which means the coaches are also assigned the responsibility of teaching the players these skills.
As with any sport, tennis also includes a large mental aspect to accompany the physical.
"It's difficult sometimes," Graffius said. "If the confidence level is low, the expectations are low. So what we need to get the girls to do is believe that they can win. I asked today, 'Who thinks they can win?' and they slowly started to raise their hands, but we want to get that confidence built up."
Although the game seems intricate, Graffius narrowed down Punxsy's strategy this year to one simple statement: "Get to the ball, get it over, and let them make the mistake."
Punxsy begins its season Aug. 24 in DuBois.