Desert Mountain girls tennis fosters positive environment amid dominant success

The 2018 Desert Mountain girls tennis team. (Submitted Photo)

A group of high school girls gather at the tennis courts of Desert Mountain High School, laughing and talking as they wait in the shade of a tree for practice to start.

As DMHS Head Girls Tennis Coach Mark Schumaker begins practice, the girls head into the 90-plus degree heat and begin stretching.

Coach Schumaker supervises from outside the fences that envelope the courts. His top-ranked team is undefeated with an absolute dominant showing so far this season, putting it on pace for a second straight team state title.

There’s also a chance Desert Mountain could have players win the singles and doubles tournaments.

But it isn’t the skill level that Coach Schumaker notes as a defining trait, although there’s plenty of that to go around. Rather, it’s the team’s humility and kindness.

“They’re not a team that looks around and is selfish,” he said in an April 11 interview. “They’re fun girls and they’re an awesome team and I think our best tennis is yet to come.”

It’s not just that the Wolves are undefeated this season, it’s the way they’re beating teams.

In its last four matches prior to the April 12 match against Gilbert High School, Desert Mountain has swept opponents 9–0. Furthermore, the Wolves have swept seven of their last eight matches.

They’ve faced top-ranked teams early in the season and have earned comfortable wins. Some of those wins include a 6–3 win over No. 3 Xavier College Preparatory and a 7–2 win over No. 2 Hamilton High School.

“I just think we really work together well,” Sophomore Hailey Stelse said in an April 11 interview. “We’re all really good friends and helps a lot in building a strong team environment.”

Tala Araghi swings at a tennis ball. (Submitted Photo)

Coach Schumaker, who is the school’s boys basketball coach, is in his first year as the varsity tennis coach.

While not knowing much about tennis, Coach Schumaker took on the role with the freshmen and then moved up to varsity this year, replacing Sheri North.

Senior Tala Araghi said even though the transition took some time because of the differences between the coaches, they both had a similar goal with high school sports.

“It’s nice we’ve had two coaches who have both tried to emphasize the importance of a high school sport not only being about athletics but also being about relationships,” she said in an April 11 interview.

Coach Schumaker said it was the easiest program to walk into not only because of the high talent each girl shows.

“They’re fun, we all joke with each other and make fun of each other and keep a really light mood which helps,” he said.

His approach to leading the program involves trying to maintain that light atmosphere. Coach Schumaker said he believes it helps the players because of how much of a mental game tennis can be for players.

In particular, he saw that mental aspect come out with freshman Ava Koenig. He said he’s been trying to help her see how good of a tennis player she really is and doesn’t need to live in her sister’s — sophomore McKenna Koenig — shadow.

“I don’t know a ton about tennis technique but I know a lot about coaching kids up and making sure they stay confident,” Coach Schumaker said. “Even at matches when I do talk to the girls, it’s more about staying focused, staying confident, not letting themselves get in their own head.”

Though dominant, the Wolves are a young group. Four of the nine players are either freshmen or sophomores, leaving just two seniors on the squad.

Coach Schumaker referred to the two seniors as “like assistant coaches” to him and they’ve helped him make the transition to tennis.

Esther Gold prepared to return the volley. (Submitted Photo)

Esther Gold and Araghi both said they try to be role models for the younger players, which is an enjoyable part of being captains.

“It’s definitely a bittersweet feeling moving on from this team next year,” she said in an April 11 interview. “I’ve definitely enjoyed being a role model for the underclassmen.”

Both Stelse and McKenna Koenig say they look up to both of the seniors because of how well they have done as role models.

Though the seniors move on, Coach Schumaker will have many of his players return for the future, including top players such as McKenna Koenig, Hailey Stelse and Josie Frazier.

With such a young core, Coach Schumaker said he sees a dynasty in the making if all continues well over the next few years.

He also said there are some challenges in having a young team such as the every-day challenges of high school. But he said he’s seen his players grow and mature as the year’s worn on.

“They’ve done a really good job at that and I’m grateful I have the girls I do,” he said.

The Wolves wrap up the season Tuesday, April 17 against Red Mountain High School. The postseason will begin shortly thereafter.

News Services Reporter Josh Martinez can be contacted at jmartinez@newszap.com or at 623-445-2738

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