MARION — Even though her older sister Tyler Simmers played girls tennis at Marion Harding, Taryn Simmers did not. Instead, she was a volleyball player.
At least she thought she was a volleyball player until a talk with Blaine Pitts, the tennis coach for the Presidents, opened her mind to a different possibility.
“When I was in middle school, I played volleyball,” Taryn Simmers said. “He got me out onto the tennis court and saw something in me thankfully. He’s put in so much time and effort. He sees the things I need that I don’t see in myself.”
Pitts remembers the initial encounter and tennis pitch. It happened at a graduation party when Taryn finished eighth grade at Grant Middle School.
“I’m always looking for some athletes who could maybe play the sport. Her sister turned out pretty good,” he said. “I said why don’t you play tennis with your sister. She said she was a volleyball player. I said to come to a couple clinics this summer and give it a try.”
The younger Simmers relented and obliged, going to a summer clinic put on by Pitts.
“Nobody is great when they first start out, but she centered the ball well and hit it in the middle of the strings. A lot of people can’t do that,” Pitts said. “She played softball, so she made good contact. I’ve done this long enough to know that with instruction this girl could be pretty good.
“I remember telling her after the first clinic that I think you’re a tennis player now. I bugged her to play and gave her enough positive reinforcement that she decided to give it a go.”
Having grown up playing softball, she had the hand-eye coordination needed for tennis as batting a softball and hitting a tennis ball are similar enough motions. Simmers also has speed and good lateral quickness, two other necessary attributes to be successful on the court.
“The first time I went out to the court, he said you have to come back. I was like, ‘Dang, maybe I’m going to be kinda good at this,’ Simmers recalled with a laugh. “I think the basics of tennis did come naturally to me. The strokes at the beginning, I could get the ball over the net because of previous sports I played and athletic ability.”
But she wasn’t an overnight success. As a freshman with no experience, she played junior varsity, but she kept at it.
“She’s a worker,” Pitts said. “Not only does she have the ability, but she loves the game. She’s very coachable and she’s not afraid to work hard. Those are all good qualities for somebody to develop into a player, which made her a lot of fun to work with. She wasn’t afraid of hard work, and she was willing to do so what you asked her to do, and she put the time in with me as well as on her own.”
As a sophomore, she played varsity, teaming with Ryleigh Tillman to win the first doubles championship at the Mid Ohio Athletic Conference Girls Tennis Tournament as her sister Tyler finished as MOAC runner-up in third singles. Last year, Simmers emerged as the team’s No. 1 singles player, finishing second in the conference and earning a Division I district berth.
“He’s taught me so many different things compared to my freshman year,” Simmers said of her evolution as a player under Pitts. “I look back and wonder what I was doing because I have the actual strokes that I’ve learned now.”
She’s a different player today.
Last week, she dominated the MOAC tourney to win the No. 1 singles championship, going undefeated in league play this season. This weekend she embarks on the postseason with hopes of reaching the DI district again.
“I feel like my serve has improved, but mostly it’s my mindset,” Simmers said of her growth as a player this season. “Most of the faults in my game are mental problems I’m struggling with myself. I don’t have the confidence, or I care about what everybody else thinks about me. Lately I’ve been blocking it out and playing my game. That’s been better.”
Earlier in the season, Simmers said she was winning matches, but she wasn’t satisfied with how she was playing, so she would take extra swings after practices and matches to hone her game.
“I feel like something clicked,” she said. “I’ve gotten a lot smarter and that helps a lot, too.”
In August, she went 8-1, needing just two sets in all her victories. She also won the first singles title at the Harding Invitational. Her play helped the Presidents start the season with a 5-2 record, eventually finishing as MOAC runners-up behind Shelby.
It was enough to win the Fahey Bank Athlete of the Month award for August among Marion County females.
“It was definitely on the goal sheet,” She said of winning the Fahey award like recent Harding singles champions Maggie Pitts and Nicole Flock. “Honestly I’m proud of myself and so thankful for my coaches. Coach Pitts has done so much for me. He’s so great. He’s one of the best coaches at Harding and maybe the MOAC. I couldn’t have done it without him .”
Without Pitts talking to her at a long ago graduation party, she wouldn’t be a tennis champion. That much is sure.
“I told her last weekend when she won (the MOAC title) that you went from beginner to the best player in the conference,” Pitts said. “That’s a ride going from I-haven’t-played-tennis-until-June-before-my-freshman-year to I’m far and away the best player in the conference. That’s pretty cool.”
Fahey Bank Athlete of the Month girls nominees for August
- Winner: Taryn Simmers, senior, Marion Harding tennis.
- Kamryn Meloy, senior, Elgin volleyball.
- Grace Staton, senior, Ridgedale volleyball.
- Gabby Cametti, senior, River Valley tennis.
- Lexi Olt, senior, Pleasant volleyball.