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IOWA CITY — As winter flipped to spring, Emma Koch emerged from the basketball gymnasium with a tennis racquet in hand.
The Iowa City West sophomore nearly helped the Women of Troy girls’ basketball team win a state championship. Now she is regarded as one of the top girls’ tennis players in the state as the season begins with a dual against North Scott Thursday at the newly remodeled tennis courts at West High School.
“Each year, I get a lot stronger and faster from basketball,” Koch said. “That’s been evident to me in that I’m getting to a lot of balls that I didn’t last year, so that’s been helpful.”
Koch averaged 7.3 points and 6.6 rebounds for the West girls’ basketball team, which won 22 games and were eliminated in a Class 5A state semifinal by West Des Moines Valley. Once-a-week practices kept her tennis skills sharp until a sore left elbow caused her to pull back over winter break.
Nevertheless, the physical conditioning of basketball has brought more power to her tennis game, and with it additional confidence that already was booming after a freshman season of playing No. 1 singles and a sixth-place finish in the Class 2A singles state tournament.
“I think she’s got the bug to do better,” West girls’ tennis coach Amie Villarini said.
The improvements have reaped early rewards during preseason tennis practices. Koch’s powerful forehand, combined with strong volleys and serves, have set a productive tone for a West team that will begin play with sophomores Kaily Speer and Vivian Mitchell, freshman Jessica Moonjely and juniors Meg Moreland and Lauren Katz.
“She’s a leader and I’ve even had her take someone off to the side and say, ‘Show them how to hit a ball,’” Villarini said. “I use her as a coach a little bit here when it comes to technique and stuff. I use her in a lot of different ways. She’s like an assistant coach to me, a mentor, a leader, everything.”
Koch’s instructional aptitude doesn’t stop with her peers. Every Sunday throughout the school year, she reports to the Hawkeye Tennis and Recreation Complex in Iowa City to provide tennis lessons to children up through the elementary school level, some as young as three or four years old.
“That one is so fun because they all just love it,” Koch said. “I usually lead the class and that one is mostly fun because I get them to like tennis. For the older kids, it’s just to be out, make them love tennis, teach them the basics.”
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