By Jim Rueda
---- — MANKATO — Mankato East junior Libby Andrego can't tell you how many hours she spent on the tennis court this summer, but it was quite a few.
Between working out with the United States Tennis Association program and giving lessons for the YMCA, she has done her due diligence on the court.
Now the question is, will all that practice make her a better player? According to East/Loyola head coach John Romberg, it already has.
"You can see she's stronger and more confident," the second-year coach said. "She's become more aggressive.
"Now she's more willing to step up and take that ball at mid-court and try to do something with it ... to follow it up to the net and shorten the point. That's going to make her a better player."
Romberg knows about Andrego's improvement because he had a ringside seat. He was one of the instructors for the USTA program and watched her game develop over the last few months.
"She seemed to be a lot more dedicated this year," he said. "She was there almost every day and really worked on her game. Last year, she was missing or leaving early because of a softball commitment, but not this year."
Although Andrego never told Romberg that she opted not to play softball with the summer Peppers program this year, that's what she did. She decided with two years left of high school tennis, that was the sport she was going to focus on.
Andrego was East/Loyola's No. 1 singles player last season as a sophomore and will play the same position again this fall. Playing No. 1 in the Big Nine Conference can be daunting, even for upperclassmen, but Romberg said she handled it well.
"She lost some tough matches, but she won some tough matches, too," he said. "She's a fighter; she didn't get down on herself. That's something we can build on."
Andrego was 4-5 in the Big Nine a year ago and 15-14 overall. Although she ended up with a winning record, she believes she can do better.
"I guess I had a winning record last year, but I want to do better," she said. "I like the challenge of playing in the Big Nine. Most of the girls are pretty nice and I respect them. I can learn from each match."
Andrego's main goal for this fall is more team-oriented. She doesn't want the Cougars to simply win more matches, she wants to win one specific match.
"The last couple of years we've gotten to the second round of the section tournament and then had to face Mankato West," she said. "They've beaten us both times, and we want to turn that around."
That won't be an easy task. The Cougars have about 40 girls out for the program in grades 7-12 but lost about half their varsity lineup from a team that was 5-8 a year ago. There is reason for optimism, however, as Romberg said he has eight players back who either played varsity or were right at the top of the JV program.
In addition to Andrego, juniors Paige Lingbeck and Katelyn Scharmer and senior Caylin Steinberg return a lot of varsity experience. After that, Romberg said things are pretty wide open.
"We'll look at some different people in some different spots during these first few matches and try to figure out where everybody fits in the best," he said. "For a lot of them, this season will be more developmental as opposed to counting up the wins and losses."