ASU women's tennis emphasizes net play in doubles

Head coach Sheila McInerney wants players to stay aggressive in their matches

ASU women’s tennis senior Kassidy Jump did not start playing at the net in doubles until college because she was once told it was unnecessary.

“My coach when I was little told me it wasn’t a necessity and it really has never been one for me until college,” Jump said. “And being here, (head coach) Sheila (McInerney) has continued to encourage me on coming into the net because since my ball is so big from the baseline, I will get an easier volley to put away. As my career has gone on it has helped add an extra dimension to my game.”

Jump started playing at the net when she arrived at ASU for her freshman season and learned the game from head coach Sheila McInerney. The veteran coach entered her 33rd season at ASU last fall.

“Once the ball gets past them, on their opponent’s side, we really want them to close on the net and poach," McInerney said.  

Jump and her partner sophomore Sammi Hampton have been a reliable doubles pairing this season, especially as of late. They have won 21 of their last 22 official doubles matches dating back to late October.

They play on court three, but putting together that long of a streak against collegiate competition is impressive nonetheless. Chemistry has a lot to do with their success, but Jump and Hampton also made a big adjustment on the court by playing at the net.

Jump and Hampton were already both great baseline players; they could play tight balls with the best of them. But Jump said playing more at the net has helped her and Hampton reach the next level.

“I think we tended to get caught playing in the back, but Sheila encourages us to come to the net and finish points off," Jump said. "So, as the season has gone on, I’d say we have gotten more aggressive in terms of coming to the net. It has definitely helped me be more aggressive. Since I do hit a big ball from the baseline, the volleys I get tend to be easier ones.”

The team has worked a lot at recent practices on net play, with McInerney telling her players to move to the net first. Senior Alex Osborne said that helps her and junior partner Nicole Fossa-Huergo dictate the point.

Osborne won the 2016 doubles title with senior partner and current graduate assistant coach Ebony Panoho at the Pac-12 Championships, but has struggled to put a set together with her new partner.

“Whoever moves first is going to win the point most of the time,” Osborne said. “Even if you don’t win the point at the net, moving sends a message to your opponent that you are not afraid to move and be aggressive.”

McInerney and the coaches use a drill to help players gain confidence in reading the opponent’s next shot at the net. Players rotate in and out on both sides of the court, and the idea of the drill is for the receiver to charge at the net immediately after the serve is in play.

Jump said McInerney instructs the returner to hit down the middle to cut the other team's chances of hitting an angle shot.

“Even if the serve isn’t in the right spot, the net player is forced to take the risk and move to go at the net,” Osborne said. “By doing it in practice, it enables us to feel less pressure having to go at the net on big points.”

Osborne and Fossa-Huergo played a complete set against Washington State, winning 6-0, and have won two of their last three official matches overall. Osborne said she and Fossa-Huergo use a lot of formations to “predict where they (the opponent) are going to hit the ball.”

Playing at the net has never been an issue for Osborne, saying she always looked to stay aggressive. The Melbourne, Australia native also said Fossa-Huergo’s net game has improved immensely.

“Every single game she learns more and you can see her reflexes at the net have improved tremendously,” Osborne said. “I’ve been able to give her tips as we’ve gone along, but I think by her just being on the court with me and seeing how I move has made her more comfortable.”

On Friday, the Sun Devils begin a key weekend against Pac-12 competition, welcoming No. 39 USC to the Whiteman Tennis Center. The Trojans come to Tempe with three ranked doubles pairs. Osborne and Fossa-Huergo will likely draw No. 41 senior Zoe Katz and junior Gabby Smith.

Look for all three pairings, including junior Kelley Anderson and freshman Savannah Slaysman on court two, to try and set the tone early with aggressive net play.  


Reach the reporter at jpjacqu1@asu.edu or follow @joejacquezaz on Twitter.

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