Archive » August 2, 2012
Young Pirates enjoy fun in the sun
By Willis Jacobson, Staff Writer
Although their season doesn’t officially get going until Aug. 27, the members of the Santa Ynez High girls tennis team are already on their first – and likely longest – road trip of the season.
As they have done for each of the last seven years, the Pirates went south this week for a preseason camp at UC-San Diego. The camp is designed to build skills in a competitive environment, as there are typically seven to 12 teams who attend the five-day, four-night excursion. Santa Ynez has won the camp title each of the past three years, and will be looking to make it a four-peat this week.
The trip is about much more than the play on the courts, however.
Pirates coach Jennifer Rasmussen said that perhaps the most important aspect of the retreat is the team-bonding that it allows for. The players will live in dorms for the duration of the camp and will tour the UC-San Diego campus, as well as San Diego State University. They also have some fun off the courts. In previous years, the team has visited Belmont Park to ride the roller coasters and get henna tattoos, and also spent time sightseeing and hanging out on the beach.
Rasmussen said she realized the importance of bringing players together during her own high school days as a basketball player under legendary Santa Ynez coach Jo Ann Reck.
“I kind of took my program and modeled it after Mrs. Reck,” said Rasmussen, who is entering her seventh season as head coach of the Pirates. “She always did team bonding over the summer, and that was always something that I felt was important. You can teach them the skills and have great tennis players, but the whole aspect of the team and working together, and being defeated and picking yourself up and learning all about that kind of stuff – and having everyone understand each other and learn to work together – you won’t have a championship team unless you have that team bond.” In addition to the players, the camp is also instructional for the coaches. Rasmussen said she learns a lot of coaching techniques and strategies during the event, and she has implemented several into the Pirates’ program.
“The girls play tennis and I get to learn new skills to teach them, and it’s all fun,” she said.
Along with its goal of continuing its streak as champs at UCSD, the squad has a more important goal of capturing its third straight Los Padres League championship. This year’s team will be mostly new to varsity tennis, as the only returning varsity starters are Kat Rocha and Katie Voorhis, who are this year’s captains.
Despite that lack of experience, Rasmussen said she is confident her players are up for the challenge. About 15 players participated in spring practices, which involved hitting, running and lifting weights, and about 25-30 players were involved in the three-week summer program. Along with that, several of the players have been consistently training in various programs at the Alisal over the course of the summer.
“I feel like we always have a good core and a good strong program to get the girls prepared,” the coach said. “Even though we don’t have that many returning from varsity, we have a huge number of really strong players and they’ve been playing a lot of tennis this summer.”
After getting back from San Diego, Rasmussen will narrow the roster to the 12 players who make varsity and the dozen who join the JV.
For the second straight year, the coach will have help in making those decisions from assistant coach Samantha Verkler, who, like Rasmussen, has college playing experience. Rasmussen played at Santa Barbara City College and then Cal-Poly Pomona, while Verkler was a standout at Fresno State. She will also continue to be aided by longtime coach Larry Popkin, who has coached the boys team for 50 seasons, and was also a girls coach for many years before handing the program over to Rasmussen, whom he coached in her final two years of tennis at Santa Ynez.
At this time last year, Rasmussen was on maternity leave. She gave birth to her daughter Elliot on July 4, 2011, and said much of last season “was a blur.” As for this season, with a 1-year-old along for the ride, she joked that it could get even more hectic.
“She runs around and picks up my tennis balls and throws tantrums now, so it might be a little harder, even though it should be easier,” she said of her daughter. “But it’s gonna be fun.”