Clark Fork tennis coach Jeff Emmer is entering his 11th season as the head coach of the Wampus Cats.
Clark Fork had a successful season last year with Blaine Williams and Wesley Simko finishing fourth at the 3A Idaho state tennis tournament.
Those two had been playing together since they were freshman, but they graduated last year.
With its two major contributors gone, what will the future of Clark Fork tennis look like?
As of publication, the Wampus Cats have two players on their roster, Cherish Grinnon, and Jamie Herrick, both of whom are freshmen who have never picked up a racket.
“They came in a little nervous, but I reassured them that not having experience is actually a good thing,” Emmer said. “They aren’t coming in with any bad habits.”
The popularity of tennis comes in waves over in Clark Fork; last year’s team set the new mark for smallest team.
For the second year in a row, the Wampus Cats set a new record for the smallest team they’ve ever had.
Just four years ago, Clark Fork had 16 players on his roster.
“I’m hoping to have more players show up as the season goes on,” Emmer said. “The kids tend to go where their friends go. Sometimes track is the most popular and sometimes it’s wave.”
Grinnon and Herrick fit that mold, both agreeing to play together before the season had started.
“We both agreed that we were going to do tennis this year,” Grinnon said. “We made that decision at the end of track season last year.”
Emmer has tried to do some recruiting within the school, specifically the freshman class, but notes that the freshman don’t have a lot of interest in sports.
“There’s just not a lot of athletes in that class,” he said. “It’s a weird grade, but supposedly next year will have a lot more sports enthusiasts.”
The dynamic duo: Emmer had some influence over Grinnon joining the team from their previous connection at the youth center.
“I kinda badgered her a bit,” Bucket said. “We’re already practicing where we met so it’s perfect for getting started.”
Emmer also noted Grinnon’s and Herrick’s athletic prowess from basketball will help them in their development.
“Their past experience with sports is going to help them a lot,” Emmer said. “They’re both coming in with good ball sense.”
“I signed up to get better at other sports,” Grinnon said. “I wanted to stay in shape for the next sports season.”
Herrick had an itch to play tennis for a while, so when she got into high school she realized this was her chance.
“I’ve always loved tennis. I grew up around my parents playing,” Herrick Said. “Which made me want to play too.”
The dynamic duo also loves the one-on-one time that they get to spend with coach Emmer.
He’s made the transition from never playing tennis to getting the basics down easy, according to Herrick.
“I would definitely not have picked this up as quickly,” Herrick said. “We’re just learning how to do a forehand and backhand, just the basics. It’s been really fun.”
When comparing it to the basketball season in eighth grade, Herrick said that the move to tennis wasn’t as difficult.
“Coming in as an eighth grader playing basketball was tough,” Herrick said. “He gets that we’re both first year players and has been really patient with us.”
The trials and tribulations of small school tennis: The Wampus Cats will not have a single home meet in 2022 and will play mostly junior varsity teams.
“It’s more of a scrimmage for the other team,” Emmer said. “Our girls have to play a lot. It’s harder on the other teams; it’s not involving players as much as I want to.”
At the end of the day, Emmer’s goal for the two girls is for them to perform well in postseason play.
“I want them to do well in districts,” Emmer said. “We have no chance at winning districts just based on how small the team is. but if I can get them to state either this year or next year, they’ll be competitive throughout their high school careers.”