Etowah’s girls tennis team returned to prominence in 2019 under Virginia Diederich.
One year after being bounced in the first round of the Class AAAAAAA state tournament, the Lady Eagles were once again in the hunt late in the season with a run to the quarterfinals.
“In a sport like tennis, where you grow every year, we were a little worried about our lack of seniors,” Diederich said. “We went in not really knowing what to think. We had to move around a lot at the beginning of the season to see who would play where. We knew we had the players. We just had to find the right places for them.”
For the first time in 15 years, Etowah took to the courts without Billie Beecher as the head coach of either of the school's tennis programs, though she remains an assistant.
However, Diederich, the 2019 Cherokee Tribune Girls Tennis Coach of the Year, came into the season with plenty of familiarity with her players. She formerly served as the Lady Eagles' junior varsity coach, then joined the varsity team as an assistant last year.
“The nice thing was that I've been with these girls,” she said. “I was their JV coach in eighth grade, and I was with the team last year. The bulk of my girls were sophomores, so it as nice to know them. That has really helped being with them for three years.”
While Diederich knew her players well, figuring out how to use them was another challenge.
Etowah has built high expectations through the talent in the area, but it also leaves difficult decisions for coaches.
“The biggest challenge with so many talented players is who to sit out,” Diederich said. “We have so many people not playing who could play on almost any other team. You have to consider a lot of things besides talent. It’s nice to have it all, but it can be hard to put it all together in the right way.”
Handling that much talent also takes a buy-in from the players, though. Diedrich said he players’ willingness to do whatever the team needed was a key factor in the turnaround season.
“You have to come to them and show them why you need them at certain places,” she said. “The girls understood this is a team sport in high school. They were all about what was best for the team. They were all about what’s best for the team.”
With the team buying in, Etowah was able to capture the second seed in Region 4AAAAAAA. The Lady Eagles turned that position into 3-0 wins over Lowndes and North Paulding in the first two rounds of the state playoffs, as Diederich worked to remove the extra pressure put on by the postseason.
“I just tell them to focus on the basics,” she said. “The thing that gets you most that time of year is nerves. It’s just another tennis match. You have to stick with what got you there. It’s mostly about keeping them focused. They know what to do. Sometimes, you just have to remind them.”
With all but one player set to return next season, Diederich is hoping for an even deeper run. Once again, she expects a challenge with setting lineups, but if Etowah can improve at the same clip it did last year, an even deeper run could be in store.
“It’s going to be hard, because our JV team had a great year, too,” Diederich said. “You have to find a way to fill the holes. These girls know that the elite eight is the minimum of what they want, but they also know they have to play hard and find a way to win to make that happen.”