MARSHALL - Tony Alberts loves tennis, and his top priority as he begins his duties as the Marshall girls' tennis coach is to help his players develop a similar passion for the game.
Alberts was named head tennis coach in late January. He replaced Holly Knudson, who resigned after she helped lead the Tigers to a share of the Southwest Conference regular season crown in 2012. Having served as an assistant coach at Marshall in both football and softball, Alberts was eager to jump on the new opportunity as the Tigers' tennis coach so that he could share his knowledge and enthusiasm for the sport.
Alberts takes over a team that lost six of its 10 players from last year, including four all-conference honorees. Competing for another conference championship would seem to be an unlikely scenario for this young group of inexperienced players, so right now Alberts' focus is on making sure the Tigers enjoy themselves and want to stick with tennis beyond high school.
Photo by Matt Dahlseid
Marshall senior Jenna Gannott returns a ball to first-year head coach Tony Alberts during practice Thursday at Marshall High School. Gannott is one of four returners from last year’s Marshall girls’ tennis team that won a share of the Southwest Conference regular season title. She will be one of the top two singles players this year along with fellow senior Brittany Soupir.
"We're going to judge success by, you know, in 20 years, are they still playing the game?" said Alberts, whose team begins the season today in Mankato. "It's not necessarily going to be, 'Did we win state?' or something like that. It's going to be, 'Did the girls develop their game in their time here and how well did they enjoy the sport?'"
That's not to say the Tigers will be fine with being pushovers as long as they enjoy themselves. They've been putting in the work in their short time on the court and hope to present challenges to their opponents throughout the season.
Seniors Jenna Gannott and Brittany Soupir move up to the top two singles spots this year and Alberts said that their experience and leadership will be vital to the team's success. Gannott was the No. 3 singles player for the Tigers in 2012, while Soupir played doubles.
The rest of the team has quite a bit of ground to make up in terms of experience, but Alberts has the help of former Marshall tennis coach and current SMSU women's tennis coach Charlie Kost to help show the youngsters the way.
"We have a lot of girls who are coming out for the first time that are just starting to develop their game," Alberts said. "With our new assistant, Charlie Kost, with his knowledge of the game and his experience, it's been a great asset to our program. In The Cities it's not too often that you have a college coach be able to be your assistant. It's about as good as it gets."
The two other returners from last year are senior Rachel Landmark and freshman Crista Schultze, who will play No. 1 doubles for the Tigers this season.
Less than a week after starting practice, the young Tigers will get to test what they've learned so far when they kick off the season today in Mankato. Marshall will play three matches on the day, taking on Orono, St. James and host Mankato West.
"They're all good competition, so we're going to have our work cut out for us, but that's part of the development," Alberts said. "We talked to the girls about how it's not necessarily about wins and losses right now, it's about improvement and each point. It's about the point you're on right now and how well you play that point.
"We'll have a good challenge ahead of us and we'll see how we do."