Coach Leads Young Team To Success

with many new additions Tennis team looks forward to a fresh start

Head Coach Ryan Gillen entered the 2013-2014 year knowing he graduated seven out of his top eight boys on the varsity tennis team. Never once did he let that overshadow the opportunity this year had to offer. And this year has already turned out with varsity taking the District Champ title early this month.

“Every team goes through it,” he said. “You don’t feel sorry for yourself, you just go out there and put in the work and make something amazing out of the season.”

Adding eight fresh faces to the team with three being freshman, this is the first year Rider varsity is “this young,” Coach Gillen said.

“They all have done great for me,” he said. “They know what we expect, and it’s all just a matter of getting them to do the right things on the court.”

Tennis is a major part of varsity newcomer sophomore Adam Hendricks’ life. Starting his day earlier than most students with zero hour band, Adam wakes at 5 a.m. to make it to band practice on time. Next he heads through his class schedule which is filled with five pre-AP classes, and by his varsity tennis hour in eighth period Adam has been going for nine straight hours and still has at least around two more to go with tennis. And that’s not even including homework or game times. Adam said he can get a little overwhelmed, but it is worth the time.He stays in the mindset that instead of worrying about the test he has now or the homework that piles up, he focuses on “One more.”

“One more and you’re done,” he said. “One more and you are finally done. Naturally, when you have a lot to do, you’ll stress. It’s just all in how you handle it.”

Coach Gillen works to help players stay above the waters with all that is expected of them. Altering practice schedules and doing different things to work with the kids is all part of the job Gillen said.

“They spend countless hours out here,” he said. “From practices to outside lessons for someone who wants to hit with us, they probably see us just as much as they see their family sometimes during the season.”

Senior Alex Smith combines family time and practice with each other. His dad played when he was in college and encouraged Alex to try out the sport he now plans on continuing with in college. Smith’s sister freshman Maddie Rowe joined varsity this year.

“My sister’s getting pretty good because we play against each other a lot,” he said. “It helps her out.”

While playing against friends and family, players can get competitive and don’t even realize it’s helping them out, Smith said.
Desirae “Desi” Harris joined the Rider Varsity team this year as a freshman and said she was accepted by the team with open arms.

“We’re just like family,” she said. “We’re a whole team, and we get along great.”

Coach Gillen said he was happy to see how accepting the team was to the new teammates.

“The ones from last year have done an amazing job leading the younger ones,” he said. “We have several coming in as freshmen or from junior varsity. We can joke around and play with them, and I like that they can come talk to me if there ever is a problem.”

Hendricks was impressed with the coaches when he first met them.

“My first impression on them was that the really know what they are talking about,” he said. “I love that I’m constantly learning from someone that really knows what they are doing. I’d call them experts.”

Coach Gillen, who has been around the sport since he was 9 years old, was a top 10 player and held a national ranking throughout his career. He fell in love with the sport he said.

“I loved that if I won it was because of me, and I loved that if I lost, it was because of me too,” he said. “Getting into high school and seeing the team aspect of it pulled it all together for me. I’m doing something I love to do: being around the sport and teaching the kids to get the most out of them.”

When looking for or at players Gillen looks for kids that play with purpose even if it means they aren’t the best.

“Heart is the number one thing for me,” he said. “The ones that every time they are on the court they refuse to lose, or if they do lose, they were going down swinging. That’s the kind of player I was.”
Adam said his passion for the sport continuously grows.

“I’ve been playing for three years and I’m still learning,” Hendricks said. “It isn’t a sport you can just pick up. You have to learn how to do a backstroke, and when you finally do, you have to perfect it. No one has the perfect swing, but that’s what we all strive for.”

Hendricks is working hard aiming for a tennis scholarship for college. He is willing to do almost anything for it.

“I’ll stick with it no matter what,” he said. “It’s the sport I do. It’s what I love.”

And that is exactly the attitude Coach Gillen looks for in a player. The burning passion to never give up at the end of the day.

“If you’re new to the sport, come out to P.E. tennis class and see if this is something you really enjoy,” he said. “If you are brand new to the sport, it’s not easy, but with the proper training, you can get better and go from there. Once you actually grasp it, it’s a lifelong sport; you can play until you are 90!”