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Big numbers bode well for future of PHS tennis

No. 2 doubles player Heidi Barrus returns a shot last fall for the Lady Panthers tennis team. Barrus and her doubles teammate Sloane Asay will compete this weekend at the Cody Invitational. No. 2 doubles player Heidi Barrus returns a shot last fall for the Lady Panthers tennis team. Barrus and her doubles teammate Sloane Asay will compete this weekend at the Cody Invitational. Tribune file photo by Don Cogger

With 40 kids from Powell Middle School and around 20 from Powell High School braving windy, chilly temps to participate in the spring tennis season, the future looks sunny for the PHS tennis program.

On Saturday, the high school players will open the spring season at the Cody Invitational, competing against the host team, as well as teams from Sheridan and Green River. There may be a team or two from Casper showing up as well.

Most of the matches will be played on the courts at Cody Middle School while, depending on how many kids show up, other area courts may be utilized.

“Saturday will probably be a full day over there in Cody, weather permitting,” said PHS head tennis coach Joe Asay. “Of course, a number of my varsity kids are engaged elsewhere in other activities. They participate in practice when they can, so I can’t say we’ll be too focused this weekend on the returners. But I will say my girls’ team is probably more active here in the spring, which is nice.”

Powell’s No. 1 girls’ doubles team, of Sierra Sanders and Shayla Shoopman, will play this weekend, as will the No. 2 doubles team of Sloane Asay and Heidi Barrus.

“I’m really excited to see those girls out there,” coach Asay said. “I just don’t get a lot of the varsity boys in the spring — a lot of those players are standout baseball and soccer players. I lost a lot of boys’ varsity players to graduation, as well.”

Expectations for this weekend’s invite are realistic; Asay said the focus will be on learning, evaluating and having fun.

“Not to say that when they walk on to the court they won’t be competitive,” he explained. “Some of the kids that are coming over are talented players, and that will give my kids the opportunity to step in and see what that looks like. But the format is such that it’s really just about trying to get those kids out on the court and play as many matches as possible.”

“Not to sell these kids short,” he added. “But we’re really just kind of trying to feel things out. Getting them on the court and pairing them up in different ways. Mixing up the matchups, and seeing what happens.”

The varsity players will be competing again in Cody on Monday afternoon, while the middle school players will be in Cody for an event today (Thursday).

The spring season will wrap up with a meet at Powell High School against Cody on Tuesday, April 24, beginning at 3:30 p.m.

“We’re just excited to get kids excited about playing tennis,” Asay said.

With so many players out for spring tennis, head coach Asay said he relies heavily on his assistant coaches: his wife Katy Asay and Brandon Preator, who’s been with the tennis program for more than a decade.

“I’m blessed to have married a wife with the same level of passion in tennis as me,” Joe Asay said. “She very graciously comes along side me to help me with this that and the other. Probably most importantly, when we hit this spring season, she’s willing to jump in there and help with the middle school kids. She does a really good job from that standpoint, helping them learn and understand the game.”

Asay called the spring season an informal one, where the focus is geared heavily on fundamentals and technique, rather than wins and losses. It also serves as a barometer on the level of interest he and his coaches can expect once the fall season rolls around, though many of his top players are participating in other activities in the months leading up to summer — including track and soccer.

“The big thing with the middle school program is that it’s an opportunity to get kids excited about tennis, and hopefully feed these kids through into the high school program when the time comes,” Asay said. “Certainly a big part of it is about learning not just stroke technique, but learning the game, understanding the scoring, all of that. I’m kind of a stickler for player etiquette and player interaction. There are good ways to win, and good ways to lose.”

Asay considers spring to be the beginning of the tennis season, and as spring transitions into summer, it’s his hope the players continue to play throughout their break.

“In my mind, the tennis season doesn’t end with the last middle school or high school practice in the spring,” he said. “One of the things that Katy and I enjoy — especially since we have a sophomore daughter that’s played two years on the varsity and another daughter coming up — is just getting out as a family and playing. My big push is to let the other players know when we’re out on the courts in the evenings for an open hit, trying to encourage kids to drag their brothers and sisters out and just maintain that interest in tennis during the summer.”

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