Erin Duckworth won 28 of 30 regular-season singles matches as a freshman and sophomore for the Canal Winchester girls tennis team, but her junior season presented a new challenge almost immediately.
When first-year coach Jason Snider moved Duckworth to first singles, he implored her to implement aggressive play at the net.
She got her chance in the season opener Aug. 12 against Teays Valley's Lacey Urban.
"I am a baseline player. I don't like approaching the net, but something clicked. I hit an approach shot, then I got to the net and I won the point with an overhead," Duckworth said. "It felt so good. (Snider) said, 'That's what I'm talking about!' and I told him that might be the only time I ever go to the net. It was a great point. I was proud of that."
"The light turned on," Snider said. "Sometimes, you have to keep egging your players on to do something you know they can do."
Duckworth was 4-6 at first singles before a Sept. 11 match against Grove City, including a 6-1, 6-3 loss to Urban. But as with that match, her takeaways go well beyond the score.
"The mental game part of tennis has gotten better for me. In-game placement, too," Duckworth said. "Shot selection has clicked for me over the years and playing better girls has really helped me. Every match, you take away something new.
"I hated losing, but now, if I lose, I realize a girl beat me on this point or by doing this or that. I need to do that to other people."
Duckworth took to tennis almost immediately when she was 11, playing in a summer program led by former Canal Winchester assistant coach Mitsi Niceswanger. She visits Scarborough East Tennis Club as often as possible, sometimes with friends who play for OCC-Capital Division rival Groveport.
Even with her natural knack for the game, Duckworth's fast start to high school took her by surprise. She went 13-2 at third singles as a freshman and 15-0 last year at second singles.
"It was awesome," Duckworth said. "(Last year was) pretty special. I think I took it well because that stuff can get to your head. I put a lot of pressure on myself coming into this year, though.
"I've always felt comfortable on the court. Swinging the racket feels good to me. It's always just been natural. I realize I'm lucky to say that because a lot of people have a harder time learning. It's a tough sport technically, but I just picked up on it."
Duckworth split her fall between cross country and tennis each of the past two years but now is concentrating solely on tennis.
"Erin has a great forehand and backhand and she's been able to strategize more this year," Snider said. "I want her to pick her spots when it comes to placement. She's getting comfortable being uncomfortable. She never goes through the motions."
Canal Winchester was 4-7 overall before playing Grove City and finished 2-3 in the OCC-Capital. The Eagles dropped both of their league matches last week, falling 5-0 to New Albany on Sept. 3 and 5-0 at Newark on Sept. 5.
Duckworth's next goal is winning a Division I sectional tournament match. She went 0-1 in singles as a freshman and lost her only doubles matches last year with Callie Tate.
"I hope everything she is learning now will pay come tournament time, and I think it will," Snider said. "I think I'll have her play singles at sectional. She hasn't played much doubles and she seems to be comfortable having the court to herself."
Girls golf team 'getting better'
Girls golf coach Abbi Eft said a few of her players were emotional after the fourth and final round of the OCC-Central tournament Sept. 4 at Blacklick Woods, even though almost three weeks remain in the regular season.
Led by Grace Beerman's round of 91, Canal Winchester shot a 409 to place sixth behind New Albany (286), Upper Arlington (311), Dublin Coffman (320), Marysville (379) and Hilliard Davidson (398). The Indians went 1-19 in the league to finish sixth behind New Albany (20-0), UA (16-4), Coffman (12-8), Marysville (8-12) and Davidson (3-17).
Also scoring in the final round were Erin Booher (a career-best 93), Anna Christy (112) and Amanda Gleadle (113).
"I reminded the girls that we have a lot of season left," Eft said. "Our averages are slowly but steadily decreasing. The team goal was to break 400 (for 18 holes) and we haven't done that yet, but we're not worried. We knew this would be a transition season with having some new girls on the team, but the girls are growing. That's what's most important."
Canal Winchester has one more 18-hole event in the regular season, the Marysville Invitational on Sept. 21 at Darby Creek, and will participate in a Division I sectional tournament Oct. 1.
Beerman and Booher have been the Indians' top two golfers all season, although the rest of the lineup has been flexible.
"Grace has consistently been in the high 80s and low 90s," Eft said. "Our back three have struggled, but they are working on improving their swings. We didn't want to finish last in the league, but we are getting better."
Girls soccer team begins league play
The girls soccer team was 2-2 before its OCC-Capital opener Sept. 10 at Big Walnut, with three of those games having been decided by one goal.
After a season-opening 1-0 loss at Gahanna on Aug. 16, the Indians edged Granville 1-0 in their home opener Aug. 26 and routed visiting Westland 10-0 the next night in a game shortened by bad weather before losing 2-1 at Pickerington North on Sept. 3.
Lexi Snider scored Canal Winchester's only goal against North, although the Indians had 19 shots on goal to the Panthers' 12.
Below are the coming schedules for the Canal Winchester cross country, boys golf, boys soccer, girls soccer, girls tennis and girls volleyball teams:
Sept. 14 -- Galion Cross Country Festival at Amann Reservoir Park
Sept. 16 -- Bloom-Carroll at West-chester
Sept. 17 -- Westerville South at Westchester
Sept. 18 -- Westerville North at Westchester
Sept. 14 -- At Olentangy
*Sept. 17 -- At Groveport
Sept. 12 -- At Olentangy Liberty
*Sept. 17 -- Home vs. Groveport
Sept. 16 -- Home vs. Central Crossing in makeup from Aug. 13
Sept. 17 -- Home vs. Northland
*Sept. 12 -- Home vs. New Albany
Sept. 14 -- At Hamilton Township
*Sept. 17 -- At Newark