Being stuck playing only road matches so far this season might be just what the young Flagstaff girls tennis team needed.
The Eagles are 4-2 heading into spring break despite the weather keeping them off their home courts and already have passed last season's win total of three matches. Flagstaff hasn't started a season this well since 2014, when the team won four of its first five matches as well before going on to win eight of its first 10.
“Already this has been a great start to our season," Eagles head coach Kaitlyn Verfuerth said. "Maybe there is this buildup of camaraderie, you know, from traveling so much and with the boys. We get to watch each other in matches, so that part has been really fun and maybe even builds the morale of the team a little bit.”
The boys side is having its share of success as well with a solid 5-1 record. In fact, the boys have already tied last year's win total.
The start of the season has been a juggling act for Flagstaff's players. With weather keeping them away from Flagstaff, the road matches have taken classroom time away from the student-athletes, turning bus rides into study halls.
“It’s kind of been just a big study session while on the bus -- which is good," Verfuerth said.
The young girls team, which has three freshmen in the usual lineup, is already getting a lot of experience as they become road tested. Their coach is excited to see how the youthful roster grows as the season unfolds.
Flagstaff's No. 5 in singles, Allie Thomas, and its No. 6, Catherine Gripp, are both freshmen who are fairly new to the sport in general. Thomas has gone 1-1 at the No. 5 spot after moving up from No. 6, where she started the season 2-0. Meanwhile, Gripp has posted a 2-4 overall singles record.
“They have been a real big surprise to the lineup," Verfuerth said, adding they've really helped the team in getting doubles points as well.
During the four-match win streak Flagstaff went on after dropping the season opener, the two freshmen played a role in the Eagles sweeping doubles in back-to-back matches before falling to Cactus Shadows on Thursday.
Brooke Freshour, also a freshman, has made an immediate impact taking over the No. 2 singles role and pairing with sophomore Pearl Garner at No. 1 doubles as a force. The freshman has registered a 3-2 singles record, stepping into the No. 1 spot for a match and earning a win. In doubles with Garner, Freshour has helped compile a 4-1 mark as she also played with Erica Ring at No. 1 for an outing.
Garner, a sophomore returner, has been solid on the top courts, where she has a No. 1 singles record of 3-2. The team lost some seniors to graduation, and Garner's been helping fill those shoes.
“Last year she was a freshman, so she had a lot of nerves, but this year she comes back almost as a veteran now that she has just that one season under her belt," Verfuerth said. "She’s a lot more confident at that No. 1 spot. And you can truly tell because of her body language on the court; she just looks confident and is playing very well.”
Last season the Division II Eagles finished with a 3-11 record, and 2017 ended at 5-10. Flagstaff is on pace to surpass the last two seasons' combined win total.
The Thursday loss to Cactus Shadows, last season's D-II state tournament runner-up, was a good experience for the young Eagles squad. It was the first 9-0 loss this season, but Verfuerth said the team walked away from the courts knowing they left everything out there.
The bonds the team have been creating on the bus are apparently strong enough to withstand a loss to a tough team.
“Positive energy, and we are always rooting for each other to get better. I think the morale of the team is strong this year and I think that’s a big part of why we are having success," Verfuerth said.
Flagstaff will open the season back up after spring break on Tuesday, March 26, with its home debut at Thorpe Park against Deer Valley at 3:30 p.m.