BELOIT - Leighia Francis sees something very important when she looks over her Beloit Memorial girls tennis team: Progress.
The Purple Knights were beaten in six of seven matches by Big Eight Conference rival Madison East Monday in Beloit, but it wasn't necessarily the results that has Francis encouraged.
"It's my third season with the girls, and you can see it's been building," Francis said. "We went 3-4 against La Follette this year, and last year we were 1-6. We are progressing against some of those bigger Madison schools that have a middle school program already in place. It's definitely improving."
While the quality on the court has improved, so too have the overall numbers in the program.
"This year, we have 10 seniors and 10 underclassmen," Francis said. "Last year, we had 15 girls. My first year, we had 12. The program keeps expanding and getting more players, which is great for everybody we have. Getting those numbers is a challenge here. I know that Janesville Craig and Janesville Parker have similar issues. They have a middle school program, but it's really just for eighth graders."
Francis said another obstacle for the team was simply a matter of timing.
"We start practicing an entire month before school even starts," Francis said. "You try to get the information out as best you can, but if they are new to the district or they just weren't looking hard for the information, they wouldn't know. Our kids in general here in Beloit just seem to be involved in so many different things. They are in the national honor society, or concert band or jazz band, and they are an athlete on top of it. Just trying to compete with the time for everything else is hard."
Francis said Bella Moore and Nishani Patel are two players that have stood out for her this season.
"They played doubles last year, and they've played doubles for half the season this year," Francis said. "They've taken on a leadership role in singles now. They are both really stepping up to the challenge of playing singles. They both beat Waukesha West and La Follette this year in singles, which was great to see. Amaya Avila has played singles in the past for us, and now she's trying doubles, so we have a lot of changes."
Riya Karne, a sophomore who played in the top singles slot Monday, said she prefers singles. "I've played singles in every official meet this season," Karne said. "I struggle to cover the alleys in doubles because I'm more oriented towards singles. It's been a good year, and I think we have a lot of really good players on the team. Our doubles teams are really strong and our singles are really good, too. I want to work on my angle shots and my serves and improve those as the year goes on."
The lone victory by the Knights Monday was achieved by the number two doubles team of Stephanie Serriano and Crystal Tello (both seniors) who won in three sets. Moore, who lost the number three singles match in three sets, also had a solid showing.
Senior Francesca Hidalgo has held down the number two singles position.
The Purple Knights will be back in action Thursday when they host Verona.