The Mt Blue tennis team warms up before a recent practice. (Andree Kehn/Sun Journal)

FARMINGTON — Just like most tennis teams in the tri-county area, the Mt Blue girls opened up the preseason in a gym with the school’s five tennis courts still draped in the snow.

With other spring sports trying to stay warm and also getting their work in indoors, the girls’ tennis team moved off campus and set up shop in the gym at the Academy Hill School in Wilton for the first week of practice.

The Cougars used that time to hone skills, performing standard drills like wall ball and using a ball machine to help the players — especially the seven freshmen — get used to balls coming at them.

“This year was better because Farmington Recreation Department had a middle school session, so I had eight or nine girls in that.” Mt. Blue coach Judy Upham said. “At least they hit some balls (there).”

Freshman Kelsey Dorman never played tennis coming into the season. the extra session in the warm confines of the gym helped her get comfortable with tennis balls flying in her direction. Now, she’s adjusting to the bounces off the concrete courts, which are different than those off the floor indoors.

“The ball bounces differently on the court.” Dorman said.

She said getting the reps on the ball machine was her favorite indoor training session.

One day indoors, the team had to improvise. The team forgot to bring a regulation tennis net to the Academy Hill School, so it got creative and used a pickleball net to help them with their volleys.

Pickleball is a paddle sport that uses a net slightly smaller than a tennis net — 36 inches on the ends and 34 inches in the middle. A regulation tennis net is 42 inches at the posts and 36 inches at the center.

Despite the differences, it got the job done.

“We learned how to put it together and we worked doing volleys over that net,” Grace McIntosh, a team captain said. “It actually being one of the favorite things for girls to do because it was really sturdy and we were able to hit and work on precision.”

McIntosh said she saw improvements in her teammates volleys by using the pickleball net. She also said volleys are important because they often are point-winning shots.

“When they came out here (to the outdoor courts), their volley’s were amazing,” McIntosh said. “I think our short court work is especially good.”

Another key skill being indoors helped with was footwork. Upham had a couple drills that she brought to the table.

The first game was a variation of dodgeball, appropriately named “tennis dodgeball.” Upham gave the girls’ softer tennis balls where some girls would hit at their teammates and the others would dodge to improve their feet work. Just like in normal dodgeball if they get hit they are out

The other drill involved surveyors tape, where one girl would have a few pieces of tape on the back their shirt and another girl would try to rip the tape off of her.

“Little feet, I don’t know how many times I say that, little feet, on your toes,” Upham said. “That’s what gets you to the ball so you are in position to hit the ball. I say it continually all the time, that’s just one of my little coaching things.”

Team Bonding

Being indoors also led to the team members getting to know each other better more quickly. The team has done a few different activities or have activities planned to get to know each other better and what expect from coach Upham this season.

One of the activities that was done involved a popular Easter tradition, an Easter egg hunt called “Jude’s Rules.” Instead of candy in the plastic eggs, it was coach’s expectations and rules inside and players would read them off.

They also have nicknames and tennis balls with their nicknames on them. They had a flannel day where all the girls’ dressed up in flannel, they plan on doing a twin day, neon day and retro day. 

Another team bonding event that took them outdoors was helping clear off the tennis courts.

“What we did is we had an hour where we decided to (help out),” McIntosh said. “Keep in mind, all these courts were probably (covered) in two feet of snow across. So we came out and in hour, the boys’ team and a few of the girls’ team members and the coaches we got about one court done. It was really hard work, but it was really fun. It was the first year we ever shoveled the courts.”

With the courts cleared they were able to start their ladder matches this week to determine who will play singles and doubles this season — just in time.

Kelsey Dorman chips away at the pile of snow on the tennis courts with her teammates at Mt. Blue High School in Farmington recently. The team did a lot of indoor drills as they waited for the snow to melt and then shoveled snow off of the courts. (Andree Kehn/Sun Journal)


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