Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett’s tennis team has taken to the court again in preparation for a brand new campaign.
The Knights return without the services of seven players from last year’s team, which coach Cathy Hackenberger said accounted for more than half of the squad. And while she acknowledges that, with the loss of so many players, this is likely to be a “rebuilding” season, she has been pleasantly surprised by what she has seen in practice, in particular from players she thought may not play a big role, including freshmen Hannah Homsy and Sara Anthony.
“Day one — when the girls came out,” she said of when she realized things might be better than she expected. “Some of these freshmen girls I really hadn’t seen play that much, and they’re nervous, so they’re not always playing their best. They’re looking around; it’s a new environment. There are varsity players, and they’re playing against (them).
“Just seeing that, you could tell right away they had something. They performed well under pressure, which is huge, (because) it’s just as much a mental game as it is a physical game.”
Aside from her freshmen, Sabrina Ajjour, as a sophomore, has played well enough to be a strong contender to be team’s No. 1 singles player, and Caroline Eckrich, a junior who just joined the team this year, may also play bigger roles than Hackenberger expected, coming into the season.
Because the Knights don’t play in a structured conference during the season, Hackenberger said the primary focus of the regular season is to prepare for the postseason. The first opportunity for that will come in the Class D regional playoffs in May.
In order to advance past its regional, Liggett will have to finish in the top two spots in the tournament, or earn enough qualifying points to advance to the state finals.
Hackenberger said she thinks there has been only two times in the last 10 years that the Knights did not do so. And even if this is a “rebuilding” season, Hackenberger is not giving up on the idea of making another trip to the state finals.
“That is always our goal,” she said. “It’s definitely my goal. That’s kind of the cherry on top. (It’s) really fun for the girls to travel. It’s a wonderful atmosphere for (them).”
But Hackenberger understands the type of competition that will await Liggett at regionals.
“I always expect it to be real competitive,” she said. “We still have Academy of the Sacred Heart. They have a phenomenal team. They had an unbelievable team last year. They have just as good a team this year. I expect them to win our regionals. After that, I really believe we’re in contention for second place.”
Victoria Chochla, Clarissa Dixon, Katherine Woodward and Alexa Yates are Liggett’s four seniors, and Hackenberger has already observed the beneficial role they can play for the team.
“The girls on this particular team, they really take charge of stretching the girls out, (and) getting the practice started on time, without me having to do it,” she said. “They earn their status. They’re a great help. Very mature girls.”
Liggett is scheduled to be in action at 4 p.m. April 8 against Richmond at home.