When an athlete reaches the high school level in any sport, it’s usually tough to contribute at a high level from Day One, as there are growing pains that student-athletes usually have to overcome in order to achieve their desired goals.
However, Wheelersburg girls tennis standouts Maddie Gill and Kaitlyn Sommer aren’t your ordinary student-athletes.
The duo, who are of freshman and sophomore standing, respectively, accomplished more in one season that most tennis players do over their high school careers in 2017. If that is hard to believe, just look at the facts: they tell the whole story. A sectional runner-up showing in the Division II Southeast Sectional Tournament, a district runner-up finish in the Division II East/Southeast District Tournament, and an appearance in the Division II OHSAA Girls State Tournament tells one all that he or she needs to know about how special the pair truly are.
And when you consider the fact that the pair have had to go outside of the county — over an hour away to Huntington, W. Va., as a matter of fact — in order to receive tennis training, it really speaks to what Wheelersburg has inside its girls tennis program.
“It’s a great accomplishment to be able to (qualify for state), and to be able to compete with others,” Sommer said. “We’ve worked hard for it. We’ve put our time into it and everything.”
However, what makes the work all the more special is the amount of time, and chemistry, that the pair have developed — a chemistry that can be difficult to maintain considering that the pair are around each other so much.
“We’ve been playing together for a long time,” Gill said. “It’s been really fun because we know each other so well.”
The overall structure that the Wheelersburg girls tennis program provides certainly didn’t hurt the pair’s efforts in becoming one of the faces of the Division II doubles scene. A total of six Wheelersburg girls across the singles and doubles realms won at least one match during the the Division II Southeast Sectional Tournament, which was more than any school around.
“The support that we received has been amazing,” Sommer said. “From our fellow teammates to our parents, they’ve supported us through thick and thin, and that has really helped each of us. Our team, as a whole, has worked really hard to get to where we are and be able to contend for SOC Championships.”
That drive that the entire program has developed has only been aided by the coaching that Jodi Wright and Becky Jackson have provided. Wright, whose daughter, Lea, was one of the six girls to win at least one match in sectional play and joined Gill and Sommer in Athens by finishing third in the Division II singles realm, and Jackson, who serves as the head coach of the boys program in the spring, have put Gill and Sommer through the ringer via a series of tough practices.
“They’ve helped us multiple times throughout practices with things that we’ve needed,” Gill said. “They’ve held us accountable with various drills and the necessary things that we’ve needed in order to be successful.”
But in order to take the next step, the youngest state qualifying doubles team in the Division II realm knows that they’ll have to up their dedication if the pair want to make further noise in 2018.
“We’re going to work harder so that we can make a return trip to state next year,” Sommer said. “We’re going to put in more time and effort, and we’ll do better as a result. It was amazing to play and see all of the competition that was present at the state level. It really shows us what we need to work on going forward.”
“We’re going to have to put in more hours,” Gill said, “and even go to different places where we can receive additional coaching in order to help us.”