PELLA — For coach Ryun Ferrell, nearly as challenging as staging a women’s tennis season during a global pandemic will be picking the Central College lineup this fall.
The Dutch have veterans back at every spot, a talented group of newcomers and no non-conference matches to sort it all out. The abbreviated campaign will be limited to American Rivers play, with eight dual matches followed by the league’s individual championship. The league’s team tournament, which determines the qualifier for the NCAA Division III Championships, is slated to again be conducted in the spring but, like every other schedule in this year of uncertainty, that’s written in pencil.
“The original plan was to have between 10-15 non-conference matches, split the squad and play a ton,” Ferrell said. “But we just need to get started. And if we’re able to get our spring championship, we might be allowed to max out our dates then.”
A more robust spring campaign won’t help with lineup decisions in the fall, however. The Dutch return 15 letter winners from last year’s 9-7 season when they were 4-4 in league play for a fifth-place finish. Ferrell has his sights set higher this fall.
“We’ve got a shot at making some big noise,” he said. “We’re a little bit older now. Last spring we started to figure out how to win tight matches, which we weren’t doing so well in the fall. I’m hoping we can continue that. That’s the goal, but it’s a weird year for everybody.”
One certainty in a year with little is at the top of the Dutch lineup in senior Karleigh Schilling (Swisher, Cedar Rapids Prairie HS). She was 7-5 in singles and 8-5 in doubles play going up against the league’s best. She earned all-conference distinction in both singles and doubles for the third straight year while picking up her third straight team MVP award as well as gaining ITA Scholar-Athlete recognition a third time.
“She’s one of the hardest competitors I’ve ever coached,” Ferrell said. “She keeps learning every day how to be a better player. She is a once-in-a-career type player to coach because she is just that awesome of a person.”
Maddie Hartley (junior, Clarinda) was 7-6 in the fall at No. 2 singles while going 6-7 in doubles, typically teaming with Bronwyn Metcalf (junior, Pella) at No. 1.
“Maddie doesn’t hit as many balls (in the off-season) as some players but she trains like crazy, running and lifting weights, so she’ll be fit,” Ferrell said. “We just need to catch up on hitting balls and I don’t foresee that being a problem.”
Metcalf was 4-6 in singles and 6-7 in doubles.
“She’s been working really hard, so I can see some big things with her.” Ferrell said.
Katie Larson (junior, Fort Madison) was 6-5 at No. 4 singles and 5-5 at No. 3 doubles with Macy Scharff (junior, Oskaloosa). Larson was among five players who studied in Europe during the spring semester.
“She’s been doing as much as she can over the summer,” Ferrell said.
Laurynn Mize (senior, Sycamore, Ill.) teamed with Schilling to go Mize to go 8-5 at No. 2 doubles while finishing 5-3 at No. 5 singles, then went abroad in the spring.
“She’s been hitting a lot,” Ferrell said. “I expect her to have a good year.”
Also studying abroad in the spring was Sarah Schirm (sophomore, Cedar Rapids, Xavier HS). She was 5-5 at No. 6 singles in the fall and 2-2 in limited doubles play.
“She’s just a steady Eddie,” Ferrell said. “She gets to a million balls and is a tough person to put away, a tough person to beat. I think she’s going to help us.”
Scharff shines in doubles, Ferrell said.
“She is my doubles expert,” he said. “She’ll be ready to go.”
Looking to crash the party is junior Alyssa Lewton (Ankeny, Centennial HS), who spent her first two fall seasons on the Dutch volleyball team. She played at No. 4 singles for Central in the shortened spring season, going 4-1 in singles and 3-2 in doubles.
“She did a great job in the spring in the short amount of time that we had,” Ferrell said. “She was really tearing it up. She’s worked really hard this summer and I’m looking forward to seeing what she could add to the team.”
Other contenders include senior Sarah Behrens (Red Oak) who posted a 7-0 record, capturing the conference Flight C singles crown last fall.
“Sarah is probably one of the more competitive players I’ve coached,” Ferrell said. “She’s a lot of fun to have on the team.”
Senior Kaysey Bos (Geneseo, Ill.) is serving as team captain.
“She trains hard, never quits and always has a smile on her face,” Ferrell said.
Seniors Grace Forde (Chicago, Ill., Regina Dominican HS) and Alivia Gerstein (Iowa Falls) also return.
“Grace is the most improved player I have coached,” Ferrell said. “She is the glue that keeps this team together. And Alivia is the hardest worker I have ever seen.”
Sophomore Alex Griggs (Knoxville), who will also be on the new Dutch triathlon squad, will battle for a spot as well.
They’ll all have to hold off the newcomers as Ferrell isn’t ruling out seeing a freshman or two in the lineup.
“We have a ton of options,” he said.
While the season launches later than usual, with a Sept. 13 opener at Nebraska Wesleyan, every match is crucial in the league standings, prompting Ferrell to lean towards experience in his initial lineup.
“We’ll probably go with a little more of a senior-laden hand unless you see a freshman, or even a sophomore, show something really impressive in practice,” he said.
Regardless of the results, Ferrell is heartened by the promise of being back on the court with his players. He’s looking at the bigger picture.
“We will continue to find a way,” he said. “I told the team we have to do our best to get through this season unscathed so that we can assist in swinging the pendulum in the right direction.”