Coach Elizabeth Cheevers-Youngs, left, with the Oxford Hills tennis team, Megan Mitchell, Paige Lord, Culiandra Nero, Hanna Ney, Gabrielle Bergeron, Olivia Rowe and Hunter Roast. (Andree Kehn/Sun Journal)
PARIS — When practices got underway March 26, the Oxford Hills girls’ tennis team was unsure if it was going to have a season.
That’s because the school hadn’t filled the head coaching position vacated by Walter Perry, who was the coach the previous 10 seasons. Some applicants had scheduling conflicts that didn’t allow them to take the job.
It wasn’t until the just before April vacation that first-year athletic director Kevin Ryan was able to find someone to coach the 11-girl roster: Elizabeth Cheevers–Youngs, a first-year ed tech teacher at the high school.
After receiving an email about the vacancy, Cheevers-Young went to Ryan and said she was willing to help, even though she had no coaching background. Ryan reassured Cheevers–Youngs that she would do just fine as a first-time coach.
“It was basically, we are looking for somebody to give the girls the opportunity to participate in (varsity tennis) this year,” Ryan said. “Somebody with lesser experience compared to nobody at all is a much better situation for the girls.”
While Cheevers-Young didn’t have any coaching experience, she does play the sport recreationally. And she knew the consequences if no one stepped up to coach.
“I had heard they had to be an organized team for a certain number of years to actually be recognized,” Cheevers-Youngs said. “So I would hate for them to lose that, all the hard work they put in the last few years. Although I never coached before, I know enough, I know how to play .”
Ryan said he was unsure if they would have to be a junior varsity program.
“That could have been a possibility,” Ryan said. “That was something I was trying to avoid all together.”
Ryan was able to postpone the first four matches of the season to buy some time for the girls to have some practice time when the weather was nice enough for them to get outside. By the rest of the conference accommodating the Vikings, it relieved the pressure to cancel the season.
When Cheevers–Youngs took over, she knew this season wasn’t going to be about wins and losses, it was going going to about development, since eight of the 11 players on the roster are new to varsity tennis.
She told everyone to make sure that they were having fun.
The three returning players are Gabby Bergeron, the team’s number one singles player, juniors Katerina Crowell and Hunter Roast.
Bergeron thought she wasn’t going to be able to play varsity tennis her senior year.
“Honestly, I didn’t think there would be tennis this year,” Bergeron said. “I was kind of hoping on there would be maybe a club or something. I didn’t expect there to be a team.”
She prepared for the season as best as she could while the season was still in limbo by going to the courts when the weather allowed her to practice.
Bergeron has been like an assistant coach for Cheevers–Youngs, especially since they didn’t have much time to prepare for the season. Cheevers–Youngs picked Bergeron’s brain on what drills they did the past few years. Bergeron also taught Cheevers–Youngs what happens on game day.
“(I told her) some drills that we have been doing the past couple of years that (Walter) Perry was teaching and kind of how games work, like the setup of games is,” Bergeron said. “Like I said, she’s never been a coach before and she didn’t know how the games were setup either.”
Bergeron wasn’t the only one who gave Cheevers–Youngs help learning the ropes of coaching varsity tennis. A fellow coaching colleague reached out to help ease the transition because of the unusual circumstances surrounding the start of the Vikings’ season.
That coach faced Oxford Hills in its first match this past Monday.
“(Teams) were away, I know some of the athletic directors already talked, and (Mt. Blue coach) Judy (Upham) stepped up and reached out to me days before with an email,” Cheevers–Youngs said. “She was very accommodating. Let me know, ‘It is what it is. Come on up we are going to have a good time.’ She was very receptive and helpful.”
The Cougars defeated the Vikings 5-0, but Cheevers–Youngs learned some tips on teaching swing technique from the 20-year coaching veteran. Upham also lent a hand by working with the Vikings players that were playing in exhibition matches.
Upham has been in the same shoes as Cheevers–Youngs, and Upham has had girls’ in the same shoes as the Oxford Hills girls.
“She had brand new girls (to tennis), just like all of us had brand new girls,” Upham said. “Our brand new girls had at least had three weeks worth of training. … These girls were nervous. All of my girls have been there. They have been up against teams that are better than they are and weren’t very nice about it. So they were happy to be nice and help them with scoring when they needed it.”
Cheevers–Youngs was happy that her team didn’t give up despite the score, as Bergeron was the lone player to win any games — she dropped the first set 6-3 to Grace McIntosh before losing the second set 6-0.
Upham said she was cheering for the Vikings.
“Any ball that went over the net, I was excited about,” Upham said. “If I was in this to beat up on every team, I wouldn’t be in (coaching), I wouldn’t have done it.”
Ryan said it was a good example of sportsmanship that was shown, that even though two teams are competing, coaches and players can work together to help each other out.