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Auburn Riverside off to quick start with young team | Prep girls tennis

Auburn Riverside senior Jennifer Lancaster in action against Thomas Jefferson. - Rachel Ciampi/Reporter
Auburn Riverside senior Jennifer Lancaster in action against Thomas Jefferson.
— image credit: Rachel Ciampi/Reporter

Auburn Riverside girls tennis coach Bruce Diehl wasn't sure what to expect coming into the season.

He knew he had two strong returning seniors in No. 1 singles player Jessica Lancaster – who qualified for the West Central District tournament last season – and No. 2 singles Sara Suznevich. Beyond that, Diehl admits, it was all question marks.

"We graduated every girl but two last year," he said. "And every girl but those two are rookies. They've never played any varsity tennis before."

Just three matches into the season, however, Diehl and the Raven girls found themselves with a shocking 3-0 record.

"We have a very surprising group of girls this year," Diehl said.

A big part of that success comes courtesy of the Auburn Riverside volleyball team.

"We've picked up three girls from the volleyball team this year," Diehl said. "One of the girls did my summer program, and she liked it so much she said she was going to bring in one of her friends, who then brought in another."

Now with newcomers like junior Brenna Bruil, sophomore Sydney LaValley and freshman Carson Heilborn, Diehl has to rethink his expectations for the season.

"Some good things have happened for us," he said. "I started the season saying 'win more than you lose.' But right now every time they win I set my bar a little higher. It's been fun. Every match feels like an upset."

Already the Ravens are looking like they will improve on their 6-4 finish from last year, with a 3-1 record as of this past Tuesday.

"I would say (this team) is better to some degree," Diehl said. "Because they're all rookies, they don't have many bad habits. So you can tell them to do stuff and actually fix their game. In two days you can see an improvement. This group really listens, they have improved every match."

And regardless of how the team finishes in the standings at the end of the season, Diehl said he's happy just being able to impact the players.

"I'm happy building blue collar players, as opposed to the blue chip players," Diehl said. "Some of them may not play tennis in college, but if we can build a team like this and they can be successful, I'm happy."

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