Over the course of Mark Allison's 16 years as the mentor of Pleasant Valley's boys' and girls' tennis teams, he has noticed that there are times when his rosters have been loaded with numbers and times that they were not. This season, Allison was pleasantly surprised to discover that 25 girls showed interest and tried out for the team.
Whenever a coach is trying to develop a team and create a title-contending squad, the very basic requirement is the numbers. So, on his list of things to do in order to accomplish that feat, he can cross off the first necessity - get plenty of players on the team.
"Our numbers for the girls' team has been dwindling as of late," Allison admits. "For the boys' team, it's been pretty steady. But it's kind of tough at our school to get the interest up with field hockey and volleyball being very popular. Getting girls out for the team like we have this year is huge and it's been a real shot in the arm for our program."
The situation of having 25 girls out for a tennis team could potentially be seen as a problem, but it's definitely a problem that any coach would be willing to have. To disperse the crowd, Pleasant Valley will continue to carry out its two separate groups of players on the varsity and JV teams.
"Years ago when I was the only coach, when we were faced with the issue of having 25-30 girls and I would have to make cuts," Allison recalls. "But now, with having a JV program, we are a no-cut program. I used to keep up to 24 girls and with having the luxury of six courts at our school, that would work out to be four kids at each court. It was hard."
As the sole coach, being responsible for 24 players would seem to be an exercise in futility, as individualized instruction would seem near impossible. However, Allison has had the pleasure of teaming up with assistant coach Ralph Weichand. Weichand is a retired teacher and tennis coach from New Jersey that currently substitutes at Pleasant Valley and is more than happy to assist in the coaching duties with Allison.
"Ralph does a really nice job and he's good with the kids," Allison admits. "He is great with helping the beginning players with fundamentals, but he and I are pretty much on the same wave length with things and that helps."
With the assistant coach by his side, Allison knows that the challenge of having that many student-athletes to deal with will not be an impossible one to face.
"We'll divide them into two squads and this way they get more attention," Allison stated. "Both squads are currently practicing together, but next week we'll break it up into two seperate groups. Once the actual season starts we'll conduct two seperate practices. That way it will help because we can seperate them and divide and conquer where we see fit.
"To try and get to everybody and get them all the individualized attention and playing time was a rough thing to do. I just couldn't handle anything more than that. When I got Ralph on board, it not only alleviated the number of girls you work with individually, but the playing time experience was a big factor, too. To get them playing time and match experience on any level is huge."
With practices going on recently, the format of the actual practice is crucial and with Allison's experience, he has it down to a science.
"Probably half of the practice is devoted to the fundamentals of the sport," he stated. "The other half of the practice is actual games, strategy, doubles versus singles, etc. With new kids to the sport, you have to expose them to those new ideas. But we do a lot of hitting, a lot of different shots, strategies on using those shots and plenty of drills to work on those."
Other schools' programs throughout the Mountain Valley Conference that feature a lot of participating student-athletes include Pocono Mountain East and Stroudsburg, and those are usually two teams that end up near the top of the league's rankings. Allison now feels that if things continue in the direction they are going, it will translate into more success for PV.
With eleven starting spots up for grabs on the varsity level, the inter-squad competition should translate into more competitive attitudes.
"This is really a nice group of girls that we have," Allison conveyed. "We have a strong number of seniors and freshmen this year and a lot of them were devoted and committed to the intermural program we had over this past summer. It was a little more informal. There was no pressure during those sessions and it was neat because you could see them improve over the course of the summer. That got them excited about this season as it got closer."
The intramural sessions were two days a week and Allison feels they benefitted a lot in preparation for the season. With the experience of those sessions, and the enthusiasm of the players and the quality of the two coaches at the helm for the Lady Bears, look for this year's PV Lady Bear tennis team to do well.