It was a typical day on the Pahrump Valley High School tennis courts. With no shade and the surface hotter than the air, conditions would have been tough for the best of players.
But what the Trojans have is a group of enthusiastic but inexperienced players who need to focus on winning one point at a time before thinking about sets and matches.
Into this second-year program walks Dan Clift, who takes over from David Yost, who left to teach and coach in Clark County’s Canyon Springs High School. Clift has been on the sidelines for plenty of tough losses as the Trojans’ boys basketball coach, but this is another ball game entirely.
“We talked yesterday about coming out to practice, being involved in a team sport, participating and having some fun,” Clift said Tuesday, the first full practice for the team. “At this point it’s not about wins and losses. It’s about building a program and building interest in tennis in this community and kids sharing that they’re having fun.”
The having fun part is true, and nobody seems to be having more fun than Veronica Dela Rosa, the team’s most experienced player. The junior always has something to say, and Tuesday afternoon was no different.
How come there are so many more girls than boys on the team?
“A bunch of boys showed up to the meeting (Monday), but today a bunch of them are busy,” Dela Rosa said. “And it’s like, ‘Wow guys. Thanks.’ But it’s OK. Now I can warn them to bring sunscreen and stuff.”
How do you deal with the heat on the court?
“Tomorrow I intend on having my brother bring some water guns,” she said.
Is it true you more or less coerced one of the few boys at practice to come out for the team?
“That’s Matthew. I convinced him to play back in April,” Dela Rosa said. “I convinced his dad to have him play. He can hit pretty well.”
What do you think of your new coach?
“Coach Clift did basketball for coaching, not really tennis,” she said. “He played tennis in college though. I think he’s like 40 or something, but it’s OK. He’ll get it. Most of these people are new. He’ll learn, they’ll learn, we’ll all learn, and at the end of the day we’ll all be sweaty.”
“Any more questions?”
Nope. Moving on …
She wasn’t kidding about Matthew Wheeler, a freshman whose enthusiasm at Tuesday’s practice was wilting in the heat.
“For about a year, she was like, ‘Matthew, you should join tennis. Matthew, you should join tennis,’” Wheeler said. “And every time I said no, she would go to my dad. He decided that I liked it.
“I like it, but not too much.”
Wheeler said that with a straight face, but convincing other students to come out for tennis will be a necessary part of the program’s development.
“I just want to have a full team,” Clift said. “The goal is when we travel that we’re not forfeiting. The biggest win will be just keeping six players or more throughout the season. That could be a challenge. Right now I need to recruit a few more kids, but I’ve got a little bit of time.”
Last year, Kyler Strickland-Adams used his athleticism to put on some exciting performances, but he largely was alone on the boys side. The girls, with Dela Rosa at the top and some decent doubles play, were competitive against some of the weaker teams on the schedule. Like last year, the Trojans will be playing as an independent and not facing a full Class 3A schedule.
They simply are not ready for that, although many of the matches will be against Class 3A foes.
“I think it’s just basic stuff,” Clift said of the plans for this year. “Eye-hand coordination, getting kids to move, know physically how to move their bodies to strike the ball.”
Clift readily admits he is far from a tennis pro, but the level of players he has on hand might be just the right fit for him.
“I was a PE major, so I took tennis classes,” he said. “But I’m not equipped to know everything about tennis.”
But, with most of his players not yet ready to learn everything about tennis, that’s probably just fine. At least everybody is having fun, and Dela Rosa, whose favorite response to any situation seems to be “it’s OK,” sees the big picture.
“We’re doing our best again,” she said.
The Trojans open their season Aug. 26 at home against Sunrise Mountain.