A tennis ball shortage has forced some coaches to scramble

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Most area teams are enjoying a season largely free of pandemic-related hurdles, with one major exception: a scarcity of tennis balls.

It’s an issue that has plagued coaches and athletic directors since January, when tennis equipment wholesalers began reporting significant shipment delays and dwindling stock.

“We had a meeting of coaches the beginning of February,” Coach Paul Fisher of Robinson High said. “We were trading:‘ I got some here. I got some there. ‘ You know, that type of thing. It’s a real pain. ”

Fisher said he has been able to scrounge up enough balls by checking local and online retailers, sharing stock information with other coaches and establishing a “lifeline” to trade equipment between programs that have managed to stock up.

But he’s still waiting on a delayed shipment from a warehouse in California, and he’s keeping his fingers crossed it’ll arrive before the playoffs.

Oakton Coach Betsy Tyskowski ran into similar issues and has had to reuse balls more often during practice. But with continued use, tennis balls can handle unexpectedly and lose their bounce.

“I kept hearing the same thing over and over about how we could place the order, but they had no idea when it would be fulfilled,” Tyskowski wrote in an email. “[I was] hoping that the availability and price would be better a couple of months down the road but that hasn’t turned out to be the case either. ”

The shortage has also been a hit to athletic department budgets; coaches are finding remaining stocks being sold for as much as double the price compared to last season.

Fisher and Tyskowski say the players haven’t had to make many accommodations so far, but with state championships on the horizon, finding enough balls will continue to be a challenge.

“It’s a lot, a lot of phone calls,” said Fisher, who worked with another local coach to get a few more balls this week. “We made a deal. He gave me two cases, which should get me through this week and next, I think. I’m hoping. ”

While coaching Oakton in 2001, Jean Counts was with her team in North Myrtle Beach, SC, when she noticed her players’ stresses festering. Some players’ parents were serving in the military, some were battling cancer, some were divorcing.

After a practice, Counts and her players sat under a gazebo, where players expressed their anxieties.

“It was the most eye-opening, heart-opening experience,” said Counts, who began coaching at Madison in 2017 after winning four Virginia championships at Oakton.

Counts realized how important discussing mental health was to not only her team’s success but to ensure her players were happy and healthy. Since then, players in her programs have requested “gazebo talks.”

On Thursday, Madison (6-2) and Oakton dedicated their game to supporting Morgan’s Message, a nonprofit aimed at eliminating mental health stigmas in sports in honor of Morgan Rodgers, a former Duke player who died by suicide in July 2019. Players delivered speeches about the importance of mental health before the game, which Madison won, 12-11, on attacker Mia Pisani’s goal in double overtime.

Madison’s conversations remain focused on mental health, causing senior Sydney Martin to ask Counts once this season if they could meet to discuss lacrosse.

“I don’t really push lacrosse very often. That’s kind of like third or fourth on my list, ”Counts said. “My whole goal is for them to really just be okay with who they are. They’re in a very formative time of their lives. This responsibility goes so much deeper than putting a whistle on your neck and saying you’re playing at this position. “

Potomac School Coach Wayne Loving has found a routine when crafting his lineups before each game. He writes the same two names in the pitching circle – Yanna Bravewolf and Abby Rebhan – nearly every game.

The Panthers have flourished as a result.

With Bravewolf and Rebhan leading the charge as a potent pitching tandem, Potomac (10-1) has secured quality wins over Trinity Episcopal, Fredericksburg Christian and St. John’s. The Panthers appear to be one of the top teams in Virginia and will chase a title following a Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association Division I championship game appearance last season.

“Neither one of them is going to get tired during the course of the end of the regular season or once we get to tournament time where we’re playing back-to-back days,” Loving said of his two-pitcher strategy.

Bravewolf, a four-year starter, has made a seamless transition from primarily playing center field and first base. Rebhan, a sophomore, has blossomed into one of Loving’s “future stars.”

“They both complement each other, and so I think it’s worked out great to have both of them throwing every game,” Loving said.

Champe got opponents’ attention a few weeks ago when it defeated Battlefield, 6-4.

Six goals is a lot for a high school team, especially against a good Bobcats side, but this Champe squad has made its name in the early part of this spring by slotting balls into the back of the net. The Knights won their first four matches by a combined 24-2.

“It felt like we should be beating teams 10-0 even – this group has been creating so many opportunities,” Coach Jazmin Cardoso said. “Probably an average of 20 shots on goal. Just a matter of finishing those. ”

In the same week it defeated Battlefield, Champe earned a 2-2 draw against the Patriot, another traditional power in Prince William County. The results proved the Knights can do more than just score goals; they are a serious threat to win the ever-competitive Cedar Run district.

Champe graduated 11 seniors last year but returned a young and talented core. That group has been supplanted by a few new players who had previously missed out on high school soccer because of club responsibilities. As this new group finds its chemistry, it looks more and more dangerous.

“I’ve been at Champe for a few years, and this feels like the first time these girls are really in it together,” Cardoso said. “They’re really enjoying each other and working together toward the same goal.”

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