Chemistry teacher Susan Hallstrom and student teacher Olivia Lacona have joined the boys tennis coaching staff for the spring, following the resignation of assistant head coach for boys and girls tennis, Frank Gagnon, at the end of the girls season last fall.
Lacona, a senior and math major at Iowa State University, volunteered to shadow head coach Andrew Gibbs and assistant coach Jed Bair during the next six weeks while she student teaches for math teachers Alania Shelton and Rachel Schaller at East.
“Honestly I just [wanted to coach] because it’s my favorite sport and I love the outdoors, especially going out there after being inside all day teaching,” Lacona said. “I really want to coach in the future and I have my coaching license.”
As she’s grown, her passion for tennis has as well. She played tennis in high school, club tennis in college and coached kids at a five week summer tennis program. During her short time at East, Gibbs wants to give her the opportunity to get some experience with coaching tennis at the high school level according to Gibbs. While she shadows Gibbs, Lacona hopes to help the team improve on their doubles skills and overall teamwork.
“[I want her] to see how to run a practice, see the ways that you can [help] players find success and for her to feel like this is something that she can do if that’s what she chooses to do,” Gibbs said. “So that’s what I hope for her.”
“Honestly I just [wanted to coach] because it’s my favorite sport and I love the outdoors, especially going out there after being inside all day teaching I really want to coach in the future and I have my coaching license.” – Olivia Lacona
Lacona hopes that she can teach the team about the importance of mental toughness in tennis and learn the lesson that many of her coaches have taught her: take each point as a fresh start. Gibbs agrees with Lacona, and has made the team’s goal for this season a mental one. He wants players to “win” the 20 seconds between tennis points by using it as a much needed break to recover and prepare for the next point, both mentally and physically.
“We made the goal something that’s not directly tied to something that you can’t always control,” Gibbs said. “I can control between the points. I can’t necessarily control how good of a player you are or how well you play that day.”
In addition to Lacona, Hallstrom will be joining the boys tennis coaching staff. The selection of Hallstrom, known to students as the Honors Chemistry and Physical Science teacher, as an assistant coach came as a shock to many members of the East community, including junior, tennis player and Hallstrom’s former student Jack Friskel.
“[Hallstrom’s addition to the coaching staff] caught me off guard and took me by surprise a little,” Friskel. “I didn’t know she played tennis.”
While Hallstrom has no prior experience with tennis or coaching, she didn’t join to be the type of coach who gives players advice through the fence during matches at State or feeds balls during drills at practice. For now, she will be performing non-coaching tasks such as supervising the boys at practice and transporting them to and from matches in the team van.
Despite Hallstrom’s lack of experience, Gibbs chose her for the job due to her willingness to learn from the other coaches, her ability to manage people and the fact that she doesn’t have to travel to East from another school. According to Hallstrom, she is excited to get to know her students in a more personal way and spend some “much needed” time outdoors.
“It’s fun for me to see students outside the academic arena and to see that students have so many gifts and talents that are way beyond the classroom,” Hallstrom said.
Even with the addition of the new coaches, sophomore and returning state qualifier Blake Eason thinks that the team has a high chance of winning state. Last year, the six-player team went to state and won the overall runner-up title.
“I think we have a really good chance [at] winning because last year we lost by only one point to Blue Valley West,” Eason said. “They had two good juniors that swept the singles draw for all of the points.”
For the remainder of the season, Lacona and Hallstrom plan to learn as much as possible and make the most of their time with the team.
“I think [Hallstrom and Lacona] will bring some consistency and, Hallstrom’s definitely fun, so some energy to the court,” Friskel said. “They’ll develop players well and help all of the freshmen get better.”