An expanding roster of players and steady improvement on the tennis court throughout the 2018 season is boosting optimism for the future of the Spearfish High School boys tennis team.
"We have 20 players on the varsity/junior varsity team and 20 on the middle school team," said head coach Doug Dexheimer, in his 19th year at the helm of Spartan tennis. "We're trying to develop different aspects of the program.
"We have some good kids and athletes in the school. There is a little more acceptance by the kids as tennis being an acceptable sport," he said.
The Spearfish school district has helped boost the sport, adding tennis to its physical education program, Dexheimer said.
"Some of the students liked it and tried it as a competitive sport. Coach (Chad) McCarty helped to spread the word," Dexheimer said. "You see a much higher level of play now, as far as athleticism and team (play).
The Spartans, Dexheimer said, still lag behind other schools in the access to year-round coaching and playing opportunities.
Seniors on the SHS varsity squad include: Carter Thorman, Matt Waters, Tanner Hanson, Erik Rothe, Victor Gross and student manager Vittoria Ragni.
Thorman, Flight 1 singles and Flight 1 doubles, has been on the varsity team four of the past five years. "I started playing tennis at 10 or 11 years old," said Thorman. "I like the mental challenge. You have only yourself to rely on."
"Carter's shown a lot of improvement and is a very good competitor and leader," said Dexheimer.
Waters, Flight 3 singles and Flight 2 doubles, is in his second year on the varsity. "I started taking tennis lessons when I was 10 or 11," said Waters. "I decided to join the team. Tennis is a lifetime sport."
"Matt is showing great improvement and is very coachable," said Dexheimer.
Hanson, Flight 5 singles, is in his first season on the varsity. "Tanner gives 100 percent all of the time, " said Dexheimer "It's fun to see Tanner develop into a pretty good all-around player."
"Carter talked to me about the team, "said Hanson. "I thought I'd try it. I like the skill set you need. Tennis takes a lot of focus."
Rothe, Flight 6 singles, a foreign exchange student from Germany, never played tennis before this year. "He played table tennis in Germany," said Dexheimer.
Gross competed on the JV team at SHS in his first year of tennis. "He's getting better," said Dexheimer.
Ragni, a foreign exchange student from Italy, collected third place in her singles flight at last fall's girls state tennis tournament.
Other members of the tennis team are: Tim Doerges, Jr., Flight 2 singles, Flight 1 doubles; Jay Sayler, Flight 4 singles, Flight 2 doubles; Braden Yackley, freshman, Flight 3 doubles; and Jensen Damberg, 8th grade, Flight 6 singles, Flight 3 doubles.
Spearfish will compete in the state tennis tournament today, Friday and Saturday in Rapid City.
"There's been a lot of improvement and a lot of new players," said Dexheimer. "They are a fairly young group showing a lot of promise. A lot of middle school players are showing coachability."
The future of tennis appears bright at Spearfish High School.