DeKALB – Brad Bjelk stood behind the tennis courts on the west side of DeKalb High School, coat wrapped around him and winter gloves covering his hands.
The Barbs’ players braved the weather to practice outside Wednesday, in spite of blustery winds.
DeKalb doesn’t possess the optimal tennis climate. There’s the weather for one, which has been especially bad this spring, although Bjelk, a 2000 DeKalb graduate who’s in his first year leading the DeKalb program, said the team has been able to go outside a number of times.
The high school also doesn’t have indoor tennis courts as some schools in the suburbs possess.
Bjelk wants to keep growing the program, which is fielding the only boys team in the area this season, despite the lack of resources it may have.
“We just hope to build something here. Build a positive tennis outlook, just get tennis out there,” he said. “It’s the Midwest. It’s not the ideal tennis environment. It’s not Florida or California.”
Bjelk, who spent the fall coaching the Barbs’ frosh/soph girls team, inherits an inexperienced roster, with DeKalb having lost a number of seniors from last year’s sectional title team. Three seniors from last year – No. 1 singles player Matt Kulma and the top doubles team of Charles White and Nick Seldal, qualified for the IHSA State Meet.
Bjelk said senior Josh Harvey will be the team’s No. 1 singles player this season, while the No. 1 doubles slot will feature seniors Ravi Patel and Micah Fagerstrom. Bjelk expects junior Owen Smith to take half of the No. 2 doubles spot. Bjelk said there will be mixing and matching throughout the year.
Patel was the Barbs’ No. 2 singles player last year, but is making the switch to doubles.
“Working with another person is definitely a challenge,” Patel said. “Especially with the court being longer and trying to communicate, get your shots lined up. It’s a challenge.”
Patel, Harvey, Fagerstrom and fellow senior Justin Peele have played tennis together since middle school recreationally, although their first organized experiences weren’t until high school.
“We just started playing one summer,” Harvey said. “We were bored, I think.”
Bjelk said he wants to start having his players be able to attend open-gym type events this summer so they can get some extra experience, and wants to run youth camps as well.
“The younger they start, the younger they find an interest in the sport,” Bjelk said. “The more likely they stick with it and get better.”