CHEYENNE – Flat forehands and an unsteady second serve helped Emily Needham win the No. 2 singles tennis championship last season.
The Cheyenne Central junior knew those strokes weren’t going to cut it in the No. 1 singles spot, which is why tweaking them was atop her list of priorities during the offseason.
The changes didn’t come without frustration.
More often than not, the topspin forehands she returned to her ball machine slammed into the net or sailed long as she learned to hit the ball early in its bounce and grooved her new swing path.
“I wondered how it was actually going to work,” Needham said. “But I kept at it and, eventually, I was hitting less out, or I wasn’t hitting them out by as much. It was really frustrating at first.
“Now that it’s just about where I want it to be, it’s really satisfying. It’s a lot more consistent and powerful than it was. It feels almost easier than it did before.”
Needham’s new and improved forehand got its first test of the season Wednesday when Central hosted Cheyenne South. Needham opened the year with a 6-0, 6-0 win over South junior Torisha Brown.
Hitting the ball with topspin actually makes Needham’s shots more accurate because the ball dives down as it spins forward.
“I’m hitting shots deeper in the court than I used to, and I’m also hitting fewer balls into the net because of the height of the shot,” she said. “There’s a lot more room for error with the topspin.”
Needham also is hitting her serves with more spin. That change, combined with a tweak in the way she tosses the ball into the air, has helped her become a more consistent server.
She is able to hit both her first and second serves with accuracy and power. Having a potent second serve is important, Needham said.
“I don’t have to worry about people pounding the ball right back at me because I’m hitting a weak second serve,” she said. “I can really go for the first serve, and know I can hit a good second serve if I need to.”
Central coach Karen Clark said Needham looked strong during the first two weeks of practice.
“We played with some women from the community Tuesday, and one of the women she played really had great things to say about the way (Needham) hit the ball and moved people around the court,” Clark said. “(Needham) is good with strategy, she knows how to place the ball and where to go with it.”
As a freshman, Needham was state runner-up at No. 1 doubles. She spent last season at No. 2 singles. The Lady Indians No. 1 singles player, Kelsey Hardsocg, finished as state-runner up.
Needham would have been the No. 1 singles player on most teams in Wyoming, but said the season in the No. 2 slot was good for her.
“I got the experience I needed,” Needham said. “It was great to have (Hardsocg) to hit with because that helped make me a better player. I got a lot of experience, and I feel like I have a good shot at No. 1 singles this year.”
Needham knows a state title won’t come easily. She expects to be pushed throughout the season. There also is defending state champion Alli Hays of Campbell County to contend with.
“There are some great players in the state, including the defending state champ,” she said. “It’s not going to be easy. Whoever wins it is really going to have to earn it.”
Indians sweep South
The doubles tandems lifted the Central boys to a 3-2 victory over South on Wednesday.
Ryan Stampfli and Justin Van Kirk picked up a 6-1, 6-1 win over Wyatt Ebben and Raymond Dougherty at No. 1 doubles. Jackson Cook and Caden Bogus downed Justin Valdez and Josiah Moyte at No. 2 (7-6, 6-1), and Ben Burron and Kellen Flowers topped Colten Tyner and Blakely Blanchard at No. 3 (6-0, 6-3).
South’s wins came from Brendan Lock at No. 1 singles (6-1, 6-0), and Fletcher Mothershed at No. 2 (7-6, 6-7, 6-0).
The Central girls topped South 5-0. Needham topped Brown at No. 1 singles, while Kaitlin Smedley defeated Jessie Foster at No. 2 (6-0, 6-0).
South didn’t have a doubles team.
The Bison play at Cheyenne East at 3 p.m. today.