By Kyle Daubs
Dwight Perry began coaching tennis in 1972, so, as you can imagine, he has seen many ups and downs through the years.
In what will be his 32nd year in total coaching at Mattoon High School, Perry has never seen anything like this, a pandemic shutting down and limiting sports.
“”When this started in March, my son asked me if I had ever lived through anything like this,” said Perry. “The closest experience was the polio scare and I was in grade school. It was nothing like this. It’s something new, but we are going to try and adapt to keep everything safe.”
After five months of navigating the pandemic, the Lady Wave will open their season at home against Newton today.
Mattoon returns four of its top six players and aspires to lofty goals for the 2020 season.
“I’d like to see us win all of our dual matches,” Perry said. “We have some stiff competition, so it’s going to be interesting to see how it goes right now. We have 14 dual matches. As far as coaches and players are concerned, we’d love to be 14-0.”
Despite finishing 5-11 in dual contests last year, Mattoon won the Apollo Conference for the first time in three years. The team is bolstered by Emily Stortzum, who combined with Tess Huene to qualify for the state tournament as a doubles pair last year.
Both return as bona fide No. 1 and No. 2 players in singles competition.
“Always good to have varsity letter winners back,” said Perry. “Tess and Emily are hard workers that have spent a lot of time in the winter and summer working on getting better. As a coach, you can’t ask for too much more.”
Caroline Davis, along with Huene, won singles competition at the conference invitational. Davis will look to move up into the top-3 in singles, while Annelise Overmyer will likely move up as well.
“Caroline Davis will move up to No. 3 after playing at No. 4 last year,” said Perry. “Annelise Overmyer played at No. 6 last year and is sitting at No. 4. Kendall Harminson is sitting at No. 5. We have one girl coming over from volleyball who has a strong tenis background. Elaina Short is going to play tennis due to the pandemic.”
Due to the pandemic, Mattoon’s schedule does not feature any big meets except for the Apollo Conference tournament. But this gives the Lady Wave a chance to chase the school record of 12 dual match wins, which was set in 1988.
Perry knows that is a tough challenge.
“Some of the teams we play are going to be awfully good,” said Perry. “With T-Town joining the conference and their history as a strong tennis program, we certainly will have our work cut out for us. We want to win more than we lose and I think we have the potential to have an excellent singles and doubles season.”
Perry also knows winning Apollo will more difficult.
“It’s going to be difficult to win the Apollo with T-Town in the conference,” said Perry. “They are going to be a big threat because they are just a well-rounded tennis program. Competing with them is going to be a challenge, but we certainly like to be challenged for the championship.”
It’s a cliche, but MHS will take one game at a time, hoping to reach a postseason event during the pandemic.
“Our biggest concern on the tennis courts is the social distance,” Perry said. “It’s going to be different how we handle the tennis ball situation and how we handle parents who come to watch. It’s just a totally different situation. We are going to do everything we can to keep everyone safe and COVID-free.”
Seniors: Chloe Grasl, Grace Helms, Tess Huene, Elaina Short, Emily Stortzum.
Juniors: Caroline Davis, Kendall Harminson, Haylie Hutton. Annalise Overmyer.
Sophomores: Lanie Butler, Regan Shumway.
Freshmen: Avery Gill, Lily Gregory, Lundyn Pope-9