Fairfield Ledger

Mt. Pleasant News   Wash Journal
Neighbors Growing Together | Sep 25, 2018

Fairfield boys’ tennis looking to give SEC trouble

By Justin Webster | Apr 05, 2018
Photo by: GTNS photo Fairfield junior A.J. Greiner returns a volley versus Mt. Pleasant earlier this week. The Trojans defeated the Panthers 5-4.

The Fairfield boys’ tennis program has been under the direction of Bill Sheppard since 2003, and this year is one of his most balanced rosters, although his 1-4 players on the varsity squad do happen to be his four seniors.

Sheppard braved the cold to stand still with The Ledger Wednesday at practice and discuss his team and their chances in the Southeast Conference this season.


What kind of style are you trying to instill in these kids?

Bill Sheppard: My thought about tennis is that it’s a game of controlled aggression. For some kids, that emphasis has to be more on the controlled and for some kids that has to be more on the aggression. I was just having a conversation with one of my players where he needs to step up his aggressive approach to the game of tennis, but there’s others that really need to temper things a lot more and get more balls in play. That’s my overall philosophy that this is a game where you have to have an aggressive but controlled style in approaching virtually every shot, as well as every point in tennis.


How are your numbers as opposed to other years and around the conference?

Sheppard: Actually, this is one of my best years in terms of kids coming out in a long time. I have 16. Four seniors, juniors, sophomores and freshmen, so it’s a really nice balance. I like having the young kids out as well even though, at this point, none of the underclassmen is prepared to make varsity, but that’s fine. It’s the seniors I’ve been working with for years now that are my varsity group. I’m always happy to be working with the younger kids as well as with the varsity players.


Do you find that because tennis is a fringe sport at the high school level, you get more players that haven’t played before you get them?

Sheppard: It’s true and one of the down sides to being in one of the fringe sports is that sometimes, some of the really good athletes don’t consider tennis as an option until quite late in their high school career. A perfect example of that is someone that’s out for tennis for the very first time this year, Dante Cingire, who walks right on and gets the No. 3 spot. That’s because, for one thing, he’s a very remarkable athlete. He has spent some summers working on tennis, so it’s not like he came out and had no idea what he was doing. He’s actually had some fine instruction before this, but prior to this year I just don’t think he thought of tennis as a possibility, and that’s too bad. I feel like had I got him out here as a freshmen, who knows where we could have gone?


What are some of your challenges coaching a spring sport in a cold state?

Sheppard: I’d say the weather is a major factor but I’d say the only consolation is, I look at the map and think about the northwest corner of the state where we’ve had to go for a state qualifying match and I think ‘Oh my gosh, I really can’t complain.’ We’re in the southeast corner so, I don’t like it but it could be worse.


Do you think there is good tennis being played in southeast Iowa?

Sheppard: It’s not at a level that you’d get playing in a region of the country where the weather permits year-round tennis, that’s for sure. Are there good players that can come out of this state? A friend of mine, Tyler Cleveland, grew up here and got to the pro level. It’s possible.


Does Iowa or the midwest have a certain style of play?

Sheppard: I’m not sure that’s the case. I grew up in Ohio, I’ve lived in California and Kansas so I’ve been around the country and played tennis in all of those places. I don’t think that’s it as much as just the opportunity to play and be around good players. That’s very critical for a young player’s development, that they play tough competition and that the level of teaching is high. Now, we have that here in Fairfield. We have a really excellent, excellent teaching staff, especially for a community of this size and in Iowa. Even with that, you still have to be able to get on a court and play tennis year round really. It’s like anthing else.


What do you want your players thinking about when they are on the court?

Sheppard: The over-arching goal for me is I hope that some of the kids come away with a love for the sport to the extent that they see it as a lifetime endeavor. That is something I took away from my dad who was just a duffer (Vintagetennis.com lists a “duffer” as an “over enthusiastic social tennis player.”) who loved the sport. It’s given me over 50 years of enjoyment and it’s amazing the lessons of life that you can learn on a tennis court, as I know is true in all athletic endeavors. Tennis is really unique in that it differs from team sports that especially in singles, you’re out there by yourself and you can’t count on someone else to have a good day and cover up for you on a weak day. It’s obvious to everybody when things aren’t going well, or for that matter, when they are. It’s different from other individual sports like golf in that you are directly competing against someone who, even if you are a skilled player, can make you look bad because they are just at another level of the game and can place balls where you can’t get to them and hit them faster than you can respond and so on and so forth. No offense to the golfing people because I think golf is a lot of fun, but it’s more of a game of playing yourself and the course. At least that’s been my experience with it. I think tennis offers a lot to those that take the time to get to know it. Those are the kinds of things that I hope the kids come away with.


What do your four seniors bring to the table and what will you miss about them next year?

Sheppard: They bring a lot of clout for the classmen below them because they’re not only the most knowledgeable, but they’re the most skilled and experienced. All of the other kids know that and look to them for leadership. This is a really good group and I’m saying that freshmen through seniors. I’ve had years where things weren’t as smooth, but this year has been a really exceptional group of kids and I really appreciate them.


Where is your confidence level?

Sheppard: I feel good about this team. I have four seniors which means that next year is going to be my growth year. Since they’re the top four players, I’m going to lose my top four right off the top of six, but I’m looking forward to this year being a good year. The competition is going to be tough, but I think that we’re going to be right there. We have a small conference, especially since Washington doesn’t play tennis, there’s only four of us and I’m hoping to give the other three some trouble.

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