COLUMBIA — John Mize knew he had a tough task in front of him when he was hired to be Battle High School's first tennis coach.
Mize found 21 girls interested in joining the team, but only a couple had previous tennis experience. The other 19 have gradually learned the sport.
"It has been absolutely amazing," Mize said. "Knowing that we had 21 girls interested but none of them had picked up a racket before, we knew it would be a challenge."
Clara Baldwin and Gillian Schulte, No. 1 and 2 singles players on the team, were the only players to have previously played.
Baldwin, Schulte and the rest of the team did their best to overcome the team's inexperience through preseason practice, a camp during spring break, and individual and group lessons. Mize said that all 21 girls have diligently attended practices and lessons since February.
Mize said all the players joined the United States Tennis Association before the season to get exposure to competition in USTA tournaments. That USTA experience gave the girls a realistic view of where they were entering Battle's inaugural season.
"When the season arrived, we set team goals," Mize said. "With such a young, inexperienced team, we had to tweak our goals. We definitely couldn't measure it on win-loss. We have measured our season on growth."
As the 2013 season winds down, Mize is anxious to see the improvement his girls can make in the upcoming offseason.
"The big key for us, now, is that when the season is over we will put the rackets down for a couple of weeks and then start right back up," Mize said. "They need to get back to their group lessons, and they need to play USTA tournaments."
Although Battle has not won a match as a team, individuals have won matches during competition. Hickman defeated Battle on Tuesday night, improving Hickman's record to 5-7.
Hickman's coach Tom Sheridan said this year's Kewpies were one of his most promising squads in years.
"They have worked their butts off," Hickman tennis coach Tom Sheridan said. "They deserve the record they have gotten at this point. They should be proud of themselves. We haven't had a team this good in a long time."
Hickman is scheduled to finish regular season play at Marshall on Thursday. Battle is also scheduled to play Thursday in Hannibal. Both teams start district play next week.