Reaching new heights

Tennis coach Skilbred's approach working well

Posted: Friday, September 14, 2007

Amy Skilbred's Juneau-Douglas High School tennis team reached a total of 43 athletes this year.

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It's a testament to the coach's approach.

The number of players continues to grow each year because Skilbred encourages her young players to invite their friends to come out and get involved with the tennis program on a try-it-out-for-yourself basis. If the newcomers enjoy their experience, Skilbred asks the new players to possibly commit to the team for the following year.

Another reason that the program is growing is partly due to the fact the high school runs a no-cut operation. The aim is to get the kids involved in a sport that offers them a foundation they can grow on, as they mature.

"Tennis is one of those things that you can 'join-in' when you start high school because you don't have to have played it for years before hand," Skilbred said. "I think a lot of kids are picking it up in hopes that it will be something that will stick with them for a long time."

The athletes are divided up into six teams of seven players, one team with an eighth. Each team has an adult coach who provides personal attention to the development of the players. While practices are geared toward the fundamentals of tennis, the teams compete in match play twice a week to get a feel for the competitive side of the sport.

With that in mind, Skilbred not only has her kids competing against their peers five times per week, she also has them playing Juneau's seasoned veterans on the weekends. About 20 members of the community volunteer in an effort to raise the bar of Juneau's young talent pool.

"It is really great to have them playing because there is a lot more tennis energy," Skilbred said. "They are quite competitive and give the kids a very good game."

Sammy Alex, a first-year tennis player, has enjoyed her tennis experience.

"Yeah, it's fun to play against my friends every day, and I won a game!" she said. "Once I played against the seniors... I lost but it was fun."

Second-year player Nathan Graves summed up the squad's improvement this year.

"At the beginning of the year, we looked pretty rough, but we went up to Fairbanks and beat five out of six teams, so that was great," Graves said.

At the end of the season, a Juneau tournament will determine eight eligible players who will represent the capital in mid-October when the four young men and women will fly to Anchorage for the inaugural Alaska state high school tennis championship.

"For more of our experienced players, we're looking forward and we think a state championship is within our reach," Graves said.

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