Maybe you raise an eyebrow, thinking that explanation

By Tom Hardesty Record-Courier staff writer Published:

Maybe you raise an eyebrow, thinking that explanation is simply coach-speak, an excuse to bail the coach out of hot water.

And quite often, you're right.

But not all the time.

Take Kent Roosevelt girls tennis coach Joan Buemi, for example. She has five letterwinners _ all underclass players _ back from last season. So, with that kind of experience returning, the growing pains of 1996 should be nothing more than a distant memory this autumn, right?

Not necessarily, for two reasons.

One, the Western Reserve Conference is a meat-grinder of a tennis league, featuring several traditionally strong programs in both the North and South divisions.

Two, the WRC just got a lot tougher with the addition of powerful Hudson this fall.

So, while Roosevelt's level of play may improve dramatically on the court, it might not show up in the win column.

"With Hudson coming in, there's no chance for the old Metro League teams," said Buemi, whose team begins its season at Barberton Monday at 12:30 p.m. "Ravenna, Stow and Cuyahoga Falls are all strong, and even the teams in the North are real strong."

Therefore, improving on last year's fourth-place finish in the WRC South may be difficult, to say the least.

"Last year was a rebuilding year, and it'll be this year, too," said Buemi. "But we've improved from last year. I think the girls played a lot this summer, and that helps."

The Rough Riders lost just two regulars from last year's squad, No. 1 singles player Caroline Brooks and No. 1 doubles player Rifat Hasan.

Returning are five letterwinners, all juniors: Martha Durkalski (No. 1 singles), Alicia Collinson (No. 2 singles), Susan Fridy (No. 1 doubles), Kathy Gagola (No. 1 doubles, No. 2 or 3 singles) and Dachana Hegde (No. 2 doubles, No. 3 singles).

Also expected to see plenty of action are junior Alicia Wargo (No. 3 singles, No. 2 doubles) and sophomore Emma Baggett (No. 2 doubles, No. 3 singles).

Durkalski is the Rough Riders' top returnee, seeing plenty of action last season at No. 1 singles after Brooks went down with an injury early in the season. Following Brooks' return, those two alternated at the No. 1 singles spot.

"She's improved a lot from last year," said Buemi of Durkalski. "She has a nice serve, solid ground strokes, nice volleys and a good mental attitude."

Fridy and Gagola will usually comprise the No. 1 doubles unit.

"Susan Fridy has some good volleys, while Kathy Gagola has a nice serve,'' said Buemi. "They're both nice players and they're both aggressive, particularly Susan."

While chances are this will be another rebuilding season, the true rewards from this year's improvement will most likely be realized in 1998, when the squad has another year of maturity under its collective belt.

"Next year is going to be, of course, their best year,'' said Buemi. "They'll all be seniors, except for Emma, and they'll have been on the team for four years.

"But we'll see what we can do this year. We'll do OK."

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