New season, new beginnings

Published 6:27 pm Wednesday, September 7, 2016

It is a season of new beginnings for the Fuqua School varsity girls tennis team.

The young Lady Falcons are entering their first year competing in the Blue Ridge Conference, and they are being led by a new head coach, Toni Puckett.

Fuqua did not play in a conference last fall as it had too many young players and could not field a varsity squad.

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This year’s squad features two new players who join four returners. Puckett is taking a realistic yet optimistic perspective into the season.

“Although we are definitely in a building year for our tennis program, all of our players are driven to succeed and give 100 percent at each practice,” she said. “It will be really fun to watch this team improve and grow over the next few years.”

Puckett, who played tennis in high school and some in college, is new to coaching, but she has been getting guidance for the task from her former coach, Murrie Bates, and her former teammate and current Randolph-Henry High School Head Girls Varsity Tennis Coach Lindsay Webb. Additionally, others have offered their time to assist at practice.

“It is so encouraging to see so many people take an interest in our team, and it gives me hope that this type of support will be the catalyst for huge growth in our tennis program over the next few years,” Puckett said.

Robert Bareford, the Hampden-Sydney College head men’s tennis coach, and his team will be working with the Lady Falcons next week. The girls may soon also get some training from Longwood University’s tennis program.

Two Lady Falcons are beginning their third year on Fuqua’s team: junior Morgan Cole and sophomore Amber Bruce.

Puckett said Cole thrives on competition and is one of the team’s more consistent players.

“She always has a positive attitude and loves to practice skills in order to develop her game,” Puckett said. “It is refreshing to see a player so eager to improve, and she regularly expresses appreciation for instruction at practice.”

The coach said Bruce will likely be one of the team’s top players.

“She is a very focused and determined athlete and loves to compete,” Puckett said. “She is a very consistent player, as well as the team encourager.  She is incredibly devoted to her teammates and goes out of her way to show kindness and help out the team in any way possible.”

Eighth-graders Bailey and Catherine Rutherford are twins in their second years on the team. Puckett described them as small but capable of making some great shots.

New to the team is junior Savannah Mahan and eighth-grader Sarah Storm.

The coach said Storm has only been playing tennis since the beginning of this summer and has had only a few formal lessons.

“She is naturally athletic and catching on very quickly,” Puckett said. “It is exciting to watch her make such fast progress.”

Mahan is fairly new to the sport, possessing some recreational experience with her friends, but she has also shown impressive progress.

“She is also a natural athlete and has played many sports over the years,” Puckett said.

As a coach, Puckett said one of her goals is to instill in each of her players a lifelong love of tennis.

“Tennis is one of the few sports that they will be able to continue playing as adults, so the time they put into developing their skills now will pay off for the rest of their lives,” she said.

Puckett also aims for her players to gain important preparation for life from tennis.

“I love how so many of our tennis lessons relate to life skills that will help them grow into adults with strong work ethics who care deeply about how their actions affect others,” she said.

The Lady Falcons open their season Tuesday at 4 p.m. against visiting Roanoke Catholic School. Including this first match, most Fuqua home matches this season will be played at Prince Edward County High School.