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USC tennis team ready to battle

By Staff | Sep 6, 2020

Members of the United South Central girls tennis team, and their coaches, pose for a team photo while still practicing their social distancing. In the front row, left to right are Nia Loonan, Ava Bungum, Brooklyn Miller, Addison Mithun, Brylee Neubauer, Daisy Holl and Emma Johnson. Middle row, left to right are assistant coach Jesse Morgan, Olivia Schwartz, Kelsie Chapman, Ally Swanson, Elizabeth Romano, Hannah Olson, Dani Kirkeide and head coach Andre Rueda. Back row, left to right, Brooklyn Yokiel, Maya Zebro, Macy Zebro, Izzy O’Rourke, Hannah Meyer, Delaney Weber and Lauren Zebro.

While things are being handled differently than in past years, the United South Central girls tennis team is happy they are able to play at all this fall, with some other sports being canceled.

“We have 22 girls out this year, from grades seven through 12,” says the team’s new coach, Andre Rueda. “We did get a little boost from the fact volleyball is not being played this fall, and so a couple of volleyball players came out for tennis.”

The coach says with five seniors on the squad, they have strength and experience throughout the lineup.

“We did lose our first match of the year, to Sibley East last week,” Coach Rueda says. “We were tough and played well, but they are a very good team. It was a close match, on a real hot day, with the temperature right up there.”

With all the COVID-19 rules in effect, the coach says this year will look a little different, including having fewer matches on the schedule.

“This year we are only playing conference opponents, and we will play each one twice in a week,” he says. “That will be interesting because there will not be a lot of time to fix things before the second match.”

The team’s starting lineup, which the coach says could change during the season, has senior Alyson Swanson at No. 1 singles.

“Alyson held her own and played a tight match against a good Sibley East player,” the coach says. “It came down to a super tiebreaker, which she lost 10-8. It doesn’t get any closer than that.”

At No. 2 singles it is another senior, Olivia Schwartz. Elizabeth Romano, a junior, is at No. 3 singles. And, playing at No. 4 singles is a sophomore, Kelsie Chapman.

A pair of Rebel juniors, twins Macy Zebro and Maya Zebro, play at No. 1 doubles.

At No. 2 doubles, two seniors, Lauren Zebro and Delaney Weber, are paired up. And, junior Brooklyn Yokiel and senior Hannah Olson are teamed together for the No. 3 doubles spot.

Helping out as the assistant coach is USC Elementary physical education teacher Jesse Morgan.

Morgan ran the summer youth tennis program, and played his high school tennis at Austin, and also played some tennis in college.

Coach Rueda was a tennis standout at Mankato West, playing doubles.

“Tennis is in my blood,” Coach Rueda says. “My dad was a really good tennis player, and my grandmother played tennis up to when she was 94-years old.”

This is the first year of coaching anywhere for Coach Rueda.

“Yes, this is my first ever time coaching and I thought I might as well help out here; its only a 40-45 minute drive,” he says. “I have my degree in history from Minnesota State, Mankato, and now I am six credits away from a degree in sports management.”

The Rebel coach says he has an aggressive attitude towards tennis that he hopes to impart to his team.

“I believe in grinding it out,” he says. “Making your opponent hit the ball more times than they are comfortable with. In my playing experience, the toughest player is the one with grit who never quits, and hits everything back over the net.”

The coach adds it would have been good to have gotten a win in that first match last week, but it was a close match at 4-3.

“But I can’t complain,” he adds. “The girls gave it a lot of effort, and they showed they have a lot of grit.”