IOWA CITY — Adversity can bring a team closer together.
Amie Villarini has seen that with her Iowa City West girls’ tennis team as the Women of Troy prepare to defend their Class 2A state championship without senior Emma Koch.
A two-time state doubles champion, Koch tore the ACL in her left knee last September playing basketball, which ended her high school athletic career.
“It was sad news for all of us to hear of Emma’s injury, mainly because it is her senior year,” Villarini said. “However, there is always a lot of growth in us as individuals when adversity strikes us. Emma is strong and will recover from this injury probably stronger than she was before.”
As she did during basketball season, Koch, a Dartmouth basketball commit, will have a presence for the tennis team.
“She is going to help manage and assist coaching during the meets,” Villarini said.
Even down their best player, the Women of Troy are among the favorites to win the 2A title. Koch’s sister, Audrey, was Emma’s doubles partner last year as a freshman. She will likely replace her sister in the No. 1 singles spot this year.
“Since Emma’s injury happened in the fall, I think it’s given the team time to let it sink in and realize they will have to step up and play without her,” Villarini said. “Emma and I share her sentiments, turning a negative into a positive. It’s an opportunity for other people to shine.”
Audrey Koch was undefeated in singles play last year. Junior Jessica Moonjely, senior Vivian Mitchell and sophomore Caroline Chandler all went through the regular season unbeaten in singles play. Moonjely finished eighth at the state singles tournament.
Villarini said all of her returning players have worked to get better.
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“Audrey, Caroline, Vivian and Jessica have continued to work and train in the offseason,” she said. “I definitely see improvements from last season.”
The loss of Emma Koch has been somewhat offset by the addition of freshman Caroline Mascardo.
“She comes from an all-around tennis family,” Villarini said. “She studied a semester abroad last fall and played some tennis there with a boys’ team and I was told she happened to be better than the boys.”
The biggest question right now facing Villarini is deciding on a new doubles partner for Audrey Koch.
“Doubles lineups are going to be tricky this season,” she said. “I haven’t figured out yet what we are going to do there. This was our first real week of practice with challenge matches and playing outdoors.”
Villarini sees Cedar Rapids Xavier, Dubuque Wahlert and Dubuque Hempstead as West’s top competition for Mississippi Valley Conference honors.
However it is clear that West’s goal, even with the loss of Emma Koch, is a title defense.
“Because we have mostly everyone returning and have added a strong freshman in Mascardo to the lineup, the team still feels confident,” Villarini said. “We are strong and will still have a great season.”