CARY, N.C. – Never mind the baseline. Wisconsin-Whitewater doubles partners Kalla Schaefer and Alexandra Bayliss are going to charge the net every chance they get.
That’s unusual enough in women’s tennis, according to their coach, Frank Barnes. But there’s more to the story than just that. They may be unconventional and they play for a public school in a field dominated by private institutions, but here they are in the women’s doubles quarterfinals.
Barnes and Schaefer first met when she was 12, at a point when she had virtually no interest in tennis although her father was a well-known teaching pro in Madison, Wis.
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“Kalla is a very unique individual,” said Barnes, and from the tone of his voice, it’s evident that this is going to be good. “She’s been around tennis for her whole life, because her dad is very into it. But she didn’t really get into it until she was 14, and they went crazy.
“They taught her a one-handed backhand. Her game style is very unique. She does a lot of underhand serving. She comes to the net constantly. It’s a real old-school game that you don’t see a lot in the women’s game.”
Wait a second. An under-handed serve, at this level? Really?
“Sometimes,” Barnes said. “Sometimes over, but it’s not a powerful serve. Most girls would tee off on her overhead serve, so she does an underhand side spin. It bounces and kicks off to the side. She played last year’s defending champion in the first round here. She lost, but her underhand serve was driving the other girl crazy. The girl was scratching her head.
“She’s not powerful at all, so you watch her play one of these top girls, and you think the powerful girl will walk away with it, but her game style really drives people crazy,” Barnes said. “She’s actually helped our team. I’ve always taught variety. Variety’s going to win at this level. It’s not about power. Now that our team sees how well she does, they’ve bought into it.”
As senior, Schaefer will spend her final semester studying abroad in Australia. As for her game, it is what it is.
“Obviously, I would love to have power to add to my game, more of a traditional power, baseline style,” Schaefer said. “It would make my life a lot easier to have all that. I don’t have a power baseline game, so I have to do something. And that’s something that not a lot of people see, so that helps me out. People are used to girls staying back and rallying from deeper in the court. Also, I like coming to the net more. It’s fun for me. I like hitting drop shots and things like that. If I had it all, that would be great.”
While Bayliss is more conventional in her play, she does enjoy battling back and forth at the net. Her strengths are those at-the-net volleys and her serves. She also has a competitive drive that was honed playing against her father and two brothers, all of whom played college tennis.
“It’s just been a lot of fun to volley,” Bayliss said. “I’m better, I think, at the net than the baseline. You don’t miss as much. I’ve been playing for about 15 years, and I’ve always worked on volleys a lot with my dad and other coaches. They always say I’ve been a natural at volleying. So, yeah, it’s just more fun to play at the net.”
The doubles partners are a good match, and have been from the time they started playing together. Never mind the fact that they don’t necessarily play like the average doubles duo.
“We’ve become very close in the last two years,” Bayliss said. “We’ve worked well together, because we both love volleying. It’s kind of unusual to have two really good girls that know how to volley. We like it, and so we go to the net. A lot of our opponents stay back at the baseline and hit ground strokes. We come into the net and just attack.”
Barnes is careful not to over-coach either of the young women, because when it comes down to it, they’re exactly the kind of young women he wants for the Warhawks.
“I’m not saying (private schools) don’t get blue-collar hard workers, but that’s the kind of person I look for when I’m recruiting,” Barnes explained. “I look for someone who has worked hard their whole life, and if I can find a handful of those who want to work hard together, that’s led to our success. Most of them haven’t reached their potential yet, so they still have a ways to go.
“I kind of look for someone who’s going to be hard working, someone who still has some growing to do in their game and who enjoy it a lot. When they like it, they bring more to practice every day if they’re looking forward to it and having fun.”