CEDARBURG — In some respects, this season feels like an extension of Kaila Haws’ first year with the Cedarburg boys tennis program.
The Bulldogs coach, who previously served as the head coach of the school’s girls program, explained that the reason for that is there were so many meets condensed into a shortened season last year, so she had a much different role than she would have anticipated in her debut. The good news is that the team did not have any losses due to graduation, so she is happy to have a full year with her team.
“We’re still building the foundation,” she explained. “We’re still working with the players and building the team culture and excitement of the sport and how fun it is.”
“Last year, we only had a five-week season, so I couldn’t do much. I kind of sat back and kind of saw how the kids are and how they play and encouraged them.”
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Other than the weather, which has seemingly alternated cold and wind with days with rain, she is pleased to have a normal campaign to put her vision into place for the future of the Cedarburg tennis program.
“We set the tone at the beginning of this season in March. I pretty much laid out the outline of our new expectations for the program and for how the team is going to go forward. It’s just focus and dedication,” she said. “While we want to have fun, there’s different team-building things that we want to incorporate.”
In terms of results, the final outcomes have been mixed, but the coach noted that the important thing is that Cedarburg has been competitive in most matches and is showing improvement.
“With those weather conditions, our team has definitely succeeded with their on-court play. They’ve been really improving in every match and just really progressing,” Haws said. “That’s what you want to see as a coach.”
She pointed to a recent North Shore Conference dual meet against Homestead as an example of that. The Highlanders are a perennial state power and the Bulldogs gave them a competitive afternoon on the court. Cedarburg dropped a 6-1 decision, but pushed all three doubles matches to a third set.
“Playing Homestead was a good measuring stick. We knew the scenario was going to go several ways. If we couldn’t close out those certain positions it would be a close loss, or we’d win, but Homestead was ranked again in the top 10, so I feel we’re right there with them,” she explained. “As long as we show up to every match and compete as a team with every team, we’re heading in the right direction.”
Essentially, programs like those in the upper echelon of the NSC, are what the coach would like Cedarburg to emulate and eventually become as well.
“We’re playing legacy teams — Nicolet, Homestead, Whitefish Bay — and what does that mean for us? It means that they have a legacy of success,” Haws said. “Those players know what it takes.
“We’re on our path to that, but we’re still growing and working as a team to keep building that.”
The way to compete against the powerhouse programs is to develop the depth that those teams have throughout the lineup.
As the Bulldogs continue to work toward that goal, they have an elite player at the top of the singles lineup in Chatton Haws. The junior is undefeated this season after earning a seed at the individual state meet as a sophomore and his play has been recognized with state and regional awards.
“He spends a lot of time in the offseason training, traveling to tournaments and working on his game,” the coach said. “He’s just very dedicated, self-motivated. He’s been working in the weight room, trying to encourage his teammates, so we’re working on that with the team to just kind of develop everyone’s athleticism and strength.”
The hope is that having a player like that will pay dividends beyond being a reliable point in the Bulldogs’ column at every dual meet.
“Chatton is a great role model. He is setting the culture of the boys tennis team for the future with winning the Frank Parker Award, getting that statewide recognition. He’s also up for male player of the year for the Midwest,” coach Haws said. “It’s all that dedication, sacrifice and sportsmanship that people notice. He loves playing and you can see that when he plays. He’s smiling and doing what he loves.”
The rest of Cedarburg’s lineup in singles play is developing. The coach pointed to the growth the Dawson Froemming has shown as an example of what athletes can accomplish with hard work in a relatively short period of time.
“This is his second year (in the sport). He wanted to try it, loved it, worked on it in the offseason and his record and his game and deviation to the program we’ve laid out for him kind of speaks for itself,” coach Haws explained. “He’s just really motivated and excited to continue playing and learning and growing.”
Ethan Fuhrman is another young player who is contributing at the varsity level. James King, Alex Sikora and Miles Trompeter are others who have competed in singles play for the Bulldogs.
“What these players are learning is the speed and strength of a varsity sport,” coach Haws said about the younger players on the squad. “It’s kind of shell-shocking when you just come out there and you’re playing singles all by yourself and then you’ve got more pace, you play faster and that’s really where your conditioning and playing tournaments really comes into play.”
In doubles, freshman Keenan Haws and senior Brandon Khmelevsky have filled the first flight and posted a winning record.
“He’s not a typical freshman. He plays national, Midwest competition and he plays like an upperclassmen,” the coach said about Keenan Haws. “Really some nice depth at the No. 1 doubles with Brandon, who is a senior. They are 11-5, so they’ve had a pretty good record, and (most of the losses) came to top-ranked teams in the state.”
In the second doubles flight, senior Brennan Claypool and sophomore Carter Fast have emerged as a solid duo in that position.
“We’re putting together experience with the upperclassmen with the younger ones, just to kind of balance them out and complement one another’s style of play,” coach Haws said.
David Smith and Grant Shipley have typically filled the third spot in the Bulldogs’ lineup.
“This is their second year playing together, so their communication is very, very good,” the coach said about the pairing. “They understand one another, they work together and we’re really seen improvement from that doubles team. They’re really understanding the strategy of the game.”
Helping the players grow and putting them in positions to be competitive has been the goal for the coach, and it has worked well, even against a daunting schedule of opponents. Things likely won’t get any easier, with Cedarburg playing today at Whitefish Bay (3:30 p.m.) followed by the Watertown Invite on Saturday.
“We’re going to be put to the test out there and kind of see where we’re at. But we’re pretty solid,” coach Haws said. “Now that we can actually have some practices this year, which we really couldn’t last year with the crazy playing schedule and the lack of time, our doubles teams are understanding how to work together, strategy, where to play in the court, and they’re just more understanding with the learning and our chalk talks.
“We’ve really been encompassing and rounding out their knowledge of the game, which we haven’t been able to do before, and talking about mental toughness,” she added. “We’re really rounding out the whole game of our players.”