Rebuilding a program isn't an easy task for any coach and with a 1-7 record to this season, Robert E. Lee girls' tennis coach Claudia Rohaly has decided match outcomes don't mean as much as what her girls learn from them.
The first year coach has inherited a team in need of help in most aspects of the game, and it will take time before the Lancers become Patriot District contenders.
Until then, Rohaly just wants the girls to swing away.
"I tell them just to relax and let it fly," she said. "Just swing away. Learn to swing away. They will be very surprised if they just let it rip."
The results vary. Either the shots sail over the backline or sometimes they unleash a hidden potential.
During a 9-0 loss to tennis powerhouse W.T. Woodson on April 14, the Lancer girls approached the strong opponents with this mindset.
Although the Lancers didn't take any matches from the Cavaliers, the girls left knowing they had swung away with the best and could learn from the experience.
Sophomore Mereb Russom said the idea of just swinging away is helping her understand her own power and ability on a tennis court.
"I can see that I'm playing better," Russom said. "I realize that I don't always have to push the ball over, but I can smack it sometimes."
While swing away might be the mantra, it doesn't just refer to hitting the ball.
Rohaly has been challenging the girls to take chances with their footwork and to play with the expectations that their opponent doesn't expect anything at all.
"We don't go into matches favored to win," she said. "So I don't put pressure on the girls."
With a pressure-free environment to play in and a commitment to growth, junior Christine Chen said the Lancers are showing signs of improvement.
"We definitely have improved," Chen said. "We're doing better with our footwork and volleys. We're getting the technical stuff down. Overall we haven't won much, but we're getting there."
The girls are also responding well to Rohaly's coaching style, absorbing her knowledge and putting it to use on the court.
"She's a great teacher," Russom said. "She has a lot of experience and she's taught us a lot about tennis. She's changing our styles and making our stokes better."
Although the wins category is lacking, Rohaly doesn't write off her team as one that can't compete. She said that it's the little nuances of the game that her team needs to master and they could very well win more matches.
"This team has it in them," she said. "We just need to be consistent like the other gals."
Rohaly didn't set any immediate goals for the team outside of improving and working with the junior varsity squad to help bolster the team next season. But she does have goals for the team this season.
"We want to hang in there with other players and just stroke the ball," she said. "But the most important thing is to have fun."
Despite the rough start to the season, including a close 5-4 loss to Annandale on April 15, Rohaly knows her team is giving their all.
"We've got a lot of guts," she said. "We play with a lot of heart."