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Tennis: Second season shows progress for Pahrump Valley

The first-year coach of the second-year tennis team at Pahrump Valley High School has a favorite memory of the just-completed season, which saw the Trojans post a 6-2 record against an independent schedule.

“I’ll never forget it,” Dan Clift said as the Trojans prepared to face Valley in Las Vegas in the season’s final match. “Virgin Valley was close, and I thought we had it won. Jacqueline (Schmidt) wins all three of her matches, so Veronica (Dela Rosa) should win all three of hers. Well, she’s playing the last round, it gets over, so I ask what’s the score. and she goes 3-6. I didn’t believe it.

“Was she saying three for her and six for the Virgin Valley girl? So I walk over there and the look on my face must have been such that … well, she said, ‘Oh coach, I’m so sorry.’ I said I’m not mad at you, I’m just surprised. Maybe it showed up in my body language as being mad. But then Tia (Jones) and Dany (Nielsen) ended up winning the only doubles match they won all day, and that gave us enough to close it out. It was awesome.”

The win was a big deal because it came against Virgin Valley, and it came on the court, not just as a result of forfeits.

“We beat Virgin Valley 10-8, and that was a good win and I told them that,” Clift said. “We got on the bus and I said this is the best win. This is against a team that is very similar to ours that has a full girls team and has been playing tennis for a number of years. It’s an established program, so it was a very good win for us.”

The other win came against Canyon Springs, a dominating 16-2 performance. But it was nothing personal, at least not for Pahrump Valley junior Veronica Dela Rosa, easily the most experienced tennis player on the team.

“I love Canyon Springs, they’re great,” said Dela Rosa, who won all three of her singles matches against the Pioneers. “We’re buddies. We’ve got each other’s Instagrams. I made friends.”

Dela Rosa went 20-4 this season playing singles for the Trojans and has taken it upon herself to be the team’s top recruiter as well. She is responsible for bringing freshman Matthew Wheeler into the program, although Wheeler seems no more enthusiastic about tennis than he did during preseason practice.

“Veronica just forced me to join, pretty much,” said Wheeler, who, along with TJ Ledbetter, comprises the boys roster. “I started in the summer. I’m still not (enthusiastic). It’s the last game, and I don’t have to do it until next year.”

So has it been any fun at all for him?

“Yeah,” he said after pondering the question. “I had a few friends here, but they ended up quitting.”

Wheeler would rather be on the soccer field, but he committed to playing tennis and said, “You can’t quit in the middle of the season.” Besides, Dela Rosa would just drag him back, as she will next season, her senior year.

“This is true,” he said, somewhat ruefully.

For her part, Dela Rosa had much more fun this season than last, when the program began varsity competition.

“It’s been fun, better than last year,” she said. “Half of it was confusing last year because I hadn’t played in real games against other teams, and the other half was frustrating because my team didn’t know how to do much. I’d be half frustrated and half confused.”

“Veronica is the heart of the team,” Clift said. “She’s the one that makes us go. She’s got the most experience, and I think the kids look up to her. We go as she goes, for the most part.”

The larger roster Dela Rosa points to is partially because of an unexpected source of players: Germany. The Trojans have four exchange students on the roster, including junior Jacqueline Schmidt, who has been a solid singles player despite not having a tennis background.

“Jacqueline Schmidt, she got so much better so quickly it was almost unbelievable,” Clift said. “She’s competitive, she’s tall, she’s strong. I really enjoyed having the exchange students. They’ve been great.”

“My friend Jacqueline over there, she’s gotten pretty good,” Dela Rosa said. “She got the hang of it pretty fast. Lisa (Gaida), also from Germany, she’s gotten really good, too.”

Gaida teamed with fellow German Svenja Mennerich to go 18-6 at doubles.

“Both girls are 11th-grade exchange students from Germany and good friends,” Clift said. “Lisa played tennis for several years in Germany, and both kids are highly competitive. They are our number-one doubles team and just really good kids to be around.”

Gaida and Mennerich compiled the same record in doubles as Schmidt fashioned in singles.

“I wanted to improve my English and learn more about the culture,” Schmidt said of her reasons for becoming an exchange student. “I played soccer and I’ve done gymnastics, and I wanted to try something different.”

After not winning a match throughout 2018, every win has been cause for celebration but, as a program still playing an independent schedule, it’s not all about the winning.

“What we want to do is go out and have fun,” Clift said. “I encouraged them to go get their friends and bring them out. I had five or six girls signed up and next thing you know these girls start showing up because one of these five or six girls brought them to practice.”

It has been fun for the coach as well.

“It’s been more fun than I kind of expected,” said Clift, who was recruited to coach not long before the season started. “We didn’t have a lot of kids last year. This year we have a lot, especially on the girls side. They’ve had some success. We’ve got two wins, four forfeits, six wins in total. That’s huge.”

Those six wins mark a significant step forward for Pahrump Valley tennis. But, ready or not, the Trojans will be in the Class 3A Sunset League next fall.

“Next year we’ll be off independent status, and hopefully a lot more people will show up because four of our best players are foreign exchange students, and they’re not going to be here next year,” Dela Rosa said.

And more people will show up if Dela Rosa has anything to say about it.

“I never stop recruiting.”

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