Under a beautiful week of weather, The Dalles’ young girls tennis team began its season with home losses to Redmond and Ridgeview by identical 7-1 scores. But there were plenty of positives starting with the Riverhawk No. 1 doubles team of Addison Little and Diana Flores Garcia, who won both their matches.

“One of our biggest surprises of the season so far has been the play of these girls,” said head Coach Debby Jones. “They do not hit as hard as their opponents, but they play smarter. They are consistent and willing to think strategy instead of just hitting the ball as hard as they can.”

Jones, who has been coaching the team for nearly a decade, likens it to a family when asked about the program. “Within our program we have a culture of community and family,” Jones said. “We want to always help the girls feel a part of that. I played for The Dalles and continue to give back. Chelsea, our assistant coach’s mother, Kathy Gay, played for The Dalles and coached as well as her father, Peter. Chelsea played for The Dalles and coaches now. We are a part of a sisterhood that has continued for over a half a century thanks to our founder Roy Taylor.”

Even with such a strong support system within the team, the pandemic has still made things difficult, especially for spring sports. The Riverhawks had two weeks of practice before the cancellation of high school sports in March 2020. “Our mindset definitely had to change after the season was canceled last year,” said Jones. “We were the defending district champs and with 11 seniors, we were making a strong case to go back-to-back.”

With so much of the team moving on after the year off, the Riverhawks find themselves in a bit of rebuilding phase. Even though this year’s team is less experienced than previous seasons, Jones still has an optimistic outlook going forward.

“We definitely are not the strongest team but see this as an opportunity to build towards the next two years,” said Jones. “I am very pleased with the attitude and effort of the girls. We have 16 enthusiastic players who are putting in the work to improve.”

Jones said one senior, in particular, has stepped up as a leader amid the team’s turnover the past couple of years. “We do have one standout player in Hannah Biehn,” Jones said. “Hannah is definitely our leader in attitude, effort and skill level.”

While their opening matches did not go exactly as they wished, Jones remained positive about the effort her players put forward. “The first two matches have been eye openers,” she said. “I am very proud of the quick progress that is being made even though we have a long way to go to get where we really want to be. That is probably what I am the most proud of.

“It takes a tremendous amount of courage to get out there, often by yourself, never having played a varsity match. You have nowhere to hide. No one can sub in for you. The sun is going to be in your eyes, the wind will blow, and you just might double fault your entire service game away, but they still stay out there, learning and growing with a smile and fierceness to their effort. Yep, I’m proud of them.”