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Noelle Swaim makes a return for Providence Grove.

Former assistant takes over and PG tennis takes off

CLIMAX — With the high school tennis season quickly approaching, Providence Grove High School was searching for a coach. In stepped Rick Thomas, the step-father of one of the players who served as an assistant coach a few seasons back.


Now things have changed. Oh, how they changed.


The Patriots entered play this week atop the Piedmont Athletic Conference standings with a perfect 7-0 record and an overall mark of 11-0. PG was set to meet Trinity and Randleman this week while closing the regular season with a match against rival Wheatmore.


PG has only been tested twice this season, topping SWR 5-3 to open the season and edging Asheboro 5-4 in non-league play. In PAC action, Providence Grove has won 51 of 62 individual matches.


“They definitely have put 110 percent into what we are doing,” Thomas said. “The improvement has been unbelievable. I couldn't ask for a better team because they are all there for each other. They didn’t have that before. This has been a wonderful season.”


The Patriots have had success in years past, just not at this level. 


“Knowing the girls ahead of time was a big help,” Thomas aid. “I went in there centered more on teaching the knowledge of the game, not just going out there and hitting the ball. It was why they should do this and why they should do that. How to play the game against opponents.There is a lot more to tennis than just hitting the ball back.”


The Patriots have just one senior on the team, No. 3 singles player Noelle Swaim. 


“It’s been amazing this year,” Swaim said. “Coach has been working with us on what specifically we need to work on. He has been working on things with us and we keep getting better.”


Junior Audrey Frazier has been playing at No. 1 singles, while junior Maya Barber, Thomas’ step-daughter, is at No. 2. Swaim has been undefeated at No. 3 and teams with junior Abby Greeson, the No. 4 singles player, to form a solid No. 2 doubles squad.


“I actually had some of the girls come to me and say we didn’t know we were supposed to do the things you taught us because no one ever taught us that way,” Thomas said. “Before the season started, I told Noelle she wasn’t swinging through the ball and she said she thought all along she was doing it right. 


“They have all gotten to the point where they know I expect it and they need to do it because I do expect it. At the end of the day, you don’t have to be a great coach, you just have to know how to talk to them to get the best out of them.” 


Caroline Tidwell, Elizabeth Shoe and Alisa Shaw are among those shining this year. Reese Davis, Livia Laswson and Ella Money complete the roster.


“At the beginning of the year, we won our first three games and I was telling them we can go undefeated,” Thomas said. “As the season progressed, they started saying, ‘Oh yeah, we can do this.’ ‘’


And they certainly are.