The ceiling appears to be very high for the Ankeny girls’ tennis team.
The Hawkettes return several varsity regulars from last year’s squad that posted a 14-3 record. They advanced to the Class 2A state team tournament before dropping a 5-0 decision in the opening round to eventual champion Dowling Catholic, which handed Ankeny two of its three losses.
Coach Steve Smith said the Hawkettes are focused more on process goals rather than outcome goals. That strategy led to an historic season in 2022.
“Last year, we focused on maxing out each player from a day-to-day, practice-to-practice, meet-to-meet process perspective, and we ended up having the best season in school history from an outcomes perspective,” he said. “We’ll continue our process focus this year, and the outcomes will be whatever they are.”
Smith’s daughter, Kira, is the team’s top returning player. Fellow sophomores Payton Blume and Sophie Schmitz, as well as senior Sydney Otto, are the other returning singles players for the Hawkettes.
Smith posted a 20-3 record as a freshman. She placed fourth in the Class 2A state singles tournament, equaling the highest finish ever by a player from Ankeny.Smith lost in the semifinals to 2021 state champion Allison Szalay of Dowling. Szalay has graduated, but plenty of other top contenders remain for this year’s singles crown.
“Elite athletes focus on controlling what they can control–improving every day in practice, maxing out every point, learning how to focus on the present rather than the past or future–and Kira is no different,” said her father. “While all players dream of winning titles, this may be the most talented field of players the state has seen in a long time with multiple DI prospects in the mix.
“Kira is dialed in on becoming the best player she can be, and she knows she’ll have many opportunities to play against players that are rated higher than her on the inaugural individual rankings posted by local media earlier this spring,” he added.
Otto was the team’s No. 4 player a year ago, followed by Blume and Schmitz. Those three players will have to move up in the lineup following the departure of Anna Schmitz and Tori Johnson, who combined for a 9-2 record in doubles and won a first-round match at the state tournament.
Johnson is now playing at Wartburg College.
“We lost an amazing senior class from last year,” Smith said. “Anna and Tori were our No. 2 and 3 singles players, and that’s tough to replace.”
Senior Lauren Osburn, who has signed to play at Idaho College, and sophomore Lilith Francel are among the team’s other returnees. They both played doubles a year ago and also gained some singles experience.
Seniors Madalyn Kolb and Sophie Rohlfing are also expected to be key contributors.
“We’ve had a couple of JV players make huge strides forward since last year that we anticipate playing big roles for us,” Smith said. “Madalyn really dove into training over the summer and offseason. She has improved so much that she has signed to play with Northwestern College next year, and Sophie has also markedly improved.”
Overall, Smith said this is the most talented team that he’s ever coached. The Hawkettes will host Waukee in their CIML Conference opener on Tuesday.
“We needed to improve as a team as our schedule is significantly tougher this year for a variety of reasons including the addition of both Valley to the schedule and the Peterson sisters (Abbie and Samara) to the Ankeny Centennial team,” Smith said. “So, we’ll have quite a few chances to learn and continually improve throughout the season.”
The Ankeny players have already shown tremendous progress during practice.
“We had more players train in the offseason than ever before, and you can really tell the difference this year in skill level at practice,” Smith said. “Not surprisingly, the intensity at practice, the level of drills we’re able to do, and the quality of points I’m seeing in our match play are awesome. We’ve increased the workload this year with two-a-days for the first two weeks. We even tried out a drill on Monday that we simply could not have effectively done even at the end of the season last year, and the players nailed it.
“I’m not sure the players realize how high of quality the points they are playing in our match play because their opponents–that is, their teammates–have improved so much that it’s much more difficult to win points,” he added.