FAIRFIELD — For a prep team to have a returning champion, it provides it a distinct advantage over the competition.
The Fairfield High School tennis team has just that in Anna Gaskell, who won the tennis singles title as a sophomore last year over fellow Trojan Anatta Charoenkul, who has graduated.
“I am sad to lose Anatta, such a great person in every way,” said Fairfield girls tennis coach Heidi Grunwald, who will be in her 11th season at the helm with a 65-44 record. “It will be a huge loss to the team. I am hoping that the other girls step up and put in the work.”
Putting in the work has become a problem with the suspension of school for a month.
“We have to be careful in regards to preseason coaching,” new Fairfield boys coach Mike Holt said. “And now with the pandemic, I can’t even have contact with the boys. We are off to an interesting start this year. Half our season has been wiped out do to the pandemic.”
Holt replaces Bill Sheppard, who left the program after completing his 16th year with the team last season.
Grunwald only loses Charoenkul from a 14-member team last year.
“We need to regroup a bit,” she said. “We need to figure out where everyone will fall on the team and make our best team again this year. We need to work on consistency and staying strong when we play.”
Gaskell, as the best Class 1A singles player last season, is obviously the key cog in a team dynamic.
“However, I have a great group returning and we can hope to go as far as we did last year as a team,” Grunwald said.
Through the regular season, the Trojans were undefeated as a team, taking the Southeast Conference title for the fourth consecutive season, before a tough 5-4 loss in the first round of team state to Dubuque Wahlert.
Destiny Gridley, Cahrina Chang and Pari Nayak were juniors last year while Puja Baral, Penelope Higdon, Emily Hostetter, Lauren Kraemer, Claire Pettit, Brooke Sanderson and Abby Schaefer were sophomores and Pari Nayak, Sophia Fritz and Katrina Paton were freshmen.
With Burlington joining the Southeast Conference this season, it could change things up.
“I really have no idea how good of a team Burlington has because we have not played them in a few years,” Grunewald said. “We are usually in their tournament but that has been canceled the last couple of years. We will keep our heads up and keep going like we did last year.”
Burlington’s girls won a single meet last year. Burlington’s boys had a 2-5 record.
“I am happy to report that our boys have been hard at work even though school is not in session,” Holt said. “They hold a ‘captain’s’ practice daily weather permitting.”
As a coach, Holt is not able to organize or participate in practices due to the recent mandates set forth by the Iowa High School Athletic Association.
“I have observed several practices however and am pleased with what I see,” he said. “I feel our team needs to work on playing consistent, fundamental, smart tennis. We need to be aware of our opponents’ weaknesses and play accordingly. Ball placement over trying to overhit the ball with pace.”
Fairfield had a 4-6 record last season while Ft. Madison won the conference at 8-0.
“Ft. Madison is always strong, but I feel we can contend with anyone in the conference,” Holt said. “I feel we will be competitive one through six.”
The Trojans’ top returners (seniors Noel Peterson and Michael Holt along with junior Blake Holden) are all solid players with varsity experience.
Coach Holt is more optimistic about some of the junior varsity players from last year than the losses to graduation.
“They are really working hard to gain a varsity spot,” he said. “Brecken Courtright, Cameron Harvey and Tristan Paton continue to improve and will add depth to the roster. We have a great mix of talent this year with several multisport athletes trying tennis for the first time to improve their overall agility and coordination.”