CROWN POINT — Kankakee Valley’s girls tennis team is homeless.
The athletic fields at KV are undergoing an $8 million renovation. The new football complex is being constructed on the site where the tennis courts once sat.
The Kougars practice in the gym, in a parking lot or at a nearby park. The season’s schedule was played entirely on the road.
“When you’ve got seven girls or sometimes eight with the No. 1 JV to even it out, and you’re trying to do two courts in practice, it’s tough,” Kougars coach Steve Ganzeveld said. “Drills are no problem but they’ve got to get match time. You can’t replace match time experience. You’ve got doubles playing singles players and when it’s time to get some singles matches in, you’ve got ladies sitting.”
Kankakee Valley showed no worse for the wear Wednesday, though, as it topped Rensselaer 5-0 in the opening round of the Crown Point Sectional.
“Tennis is mental. I’ve never preached more about mental than I have this year,” Ganzeveld said. “We’ve literally sat down on the court for the first ten minutes of each practice for the last 10 days or so and talked about the mental game.”
KV’s No. 1 singles player Aubrey Toppen won her match with the Bombers’ Madison Haynes 6-0, 6-1. The Kougars played Rensselaer during the regular season, but Toppen had a different opponent — a right-handed one. Haynes is a southpaw.
“I warmed up and my coach is a righty. Everything is backhand corner. It’s right in her sweet spot for her forehand,” Toppen said. “It was hard transition to make. I just came out and I competed.”
Toppen believes she’s a better player after practicing on asphalt and basketball courts.
“Going into this season, senior year, it kind of stung (to not have a home court),” she said. “The courts we play on are kind of bad, so you have to learn how to play the bounce, which I think has made my reaction time better, honestly. Where I think the ball is going, it doesn’t always go there.”
The Kougars No. 1 doubles team of Allison Dykstra and Olivia Arnold defeated Kiara Britt and Jessie Ringen 6-2, 6-1.
“It’s tough. Half the time were in the park and if not, we’re in the gym hitting off the ball machine, which is totally different with the spin,” Arnold said. “We just have to have a good mindset because it’s all we can do.”
“6-0, 6-0 is great but it doesn’t have to be that,” Ganzeveld added. “I’m okay with girls losing a couple game here and there because that focuses them, gets them right back on track. Rensselaer hit some good shots.”
Lake Central also won its first-round matchup 5-0 over Lowell. No. 1 singles player Bella Watts started slow but beat Madison Jusevitch 6-1, 6-1.
“I felt good once I got into it. I definitely feel like I played better after the first couple games, getting my rhythm going into it,” Watts said. “That’s very important to me because if I get out of rhythm, I’m not playing the best I can.”
Lake Central will meet host Crown Point in Thursday’s semifinals. Kankakee Valley will play Hanover Central.
“From the beginning of the season, everyone knew that (Crown Point) would be the toughest match (in the postseason),” Watts said. “We feel very prepared and I feel like if we do the best we can, it’ll be a good match.”
The Indians defeated the Bulldogs 3-2 in the regular season.