Alleman tennis coach Leslie Hird had a talk with her daughter, Lauren, three years ago when she accepted the job at her alma mater to coach tennis.
“If I end up coaching, it’s going to be a coach/player relationship on the court and mother/daughter at home,” Leslie, an Alleman Hall of Fame tennis player, told Lauren, then a freshman.
It’s worked out pretty well since.
Alleman has won three sectional titles and three Western Big Six titles under coach Hird, besides taking third at state as a team last fall. In addition, Lauren Hird is returning to Class A state Thursday for the second straight year with her doubles partner, Noely Baumann. This year, the sectional champs, who have a 28-3 record, are even seeded third.
Alleman also sends Big Six and sectional champ Lily Schoeck (31-1) back to state. It’s Schoeck’s third straight appearance.
The chance to coach her daughter was never really a draw, Leslie Hird said, when she accepted then-athletic director, Steve Smithers, offer.
“They had asked me in the past, and it’s pretty tough with three kids,” she said. “And I had been out of the tennis scene for years.”
But with her oldest daughter in college and son Brendan already at Alleman, parents Kevin and Leslie were going to have split up which parent went where to watch their kids play.
“The timing was right,” Leslie said.
Leslie gives Lauren credit for handling things well.
“She does a good job of listening,” Leslie said. “We are clear about our roles.”
It’s really never been a problem, Lauren and classmate Schoeck said. The Alleman team is close anyway, the players said, and enjoys being around each other.
“It’s definitely different than playing for a coach I don’t know,” Lauren, a junior, admitted. “But she treats me like any other player on the team, which is a good thing, because we all need pushing.”
The relationship has generally worked out the way Leslie planned it, with it being coach/player on the court and mother/daughter at home.
Lauren’s dad and Leslie’s husband, Kevin, knows tennis, too, and is often the one talking tennis to Lauren as a parent, she said. And when her mom chimes in at home, it’s more with a parent’s perspective.
Leslie calls the whole experience, including coaching talented players during her tenure at Alleman, a blessing.
Coach Hird, who played at state herself during her time at Alleman, does not expect the Pioneers to equal last year’s tie for third place overall. Alleman qualified its No. 1 and No. 2 singles players a year ago and the same with both its doubles teams. This year it only has Schoeck in singles and the Baumann-Hird team in doubles.
Coach Hird does like the seeds, though, with Schoeck seeded 9-16 and the doubles team seeded 3-4. Plus there’s last year’s experience, where Schoeck and Baumann-Hird finished in the top 12.
“They know what to expect this year,” Hird said. “They both made it to the top 12, so they have all seen great competition. And hopefully that will help with their first-match jitters.”
The players agree.
“It was very valuable,” Baumann said. “It gives me a lot of confidence coming into this (tournament).”
“There’s really good competition in Chicago,” Schoeck said. “And playing all those better players, even the ones better than you, it’s always good and a good experience.”
Baumann says her goal is a state title, especially being a senior.
“I am super pumped,” she said.
Schoeck said her goal is to stay focused, play hard and hopefully finish higher than last year.
Meanwhile on a day when most parents are there, Lauren Hird will have what she’s had every match, her mom on hand with a front-row seat.
“It’s nice knowing that she’s always there watching,” Lauren said.
Also sending a doubles team in Class 1A is Geneseo (Madi Miller and Jane Thomas).
Moline’s Lauren Myers and Monika Birski, both freshmen, are in Class 2A.
The goal is to get experience some competitive matches, Moline assistant coach Brooke Forsberg said.
“I think they will have fun and do well,” she said.