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Jackson's Haff works hard for No. 1 status
JACKSON -- Summer evenings at the tennis courts are an integral part of the Haff family tradition.
Steve and Sue would play on one side of the net while their daughter, Erinne, manned the other side on her own.
"I would say it's serious fun," Sue said. "We laugh a lot, but she gets in a good workout."
The Haffs spent countless hours on the court enjoying each other's company, but also helping Erinne prepare for her senior year on the Jackson tennis team. The hard work Erinne put in over the summer already is showing as she's helped the Indians get off to a fast start this season.
"I hit with other people," Erinne said. "I play a lot of matches for match experience. I pretty much just eat, sleep and breath tennis."
That work ethic helped Haff grab the No. 1 singles position as a sophomore, and has allowed her to keep a firm grasp on the team's top spot. She's 4-1 in singles matches while helping the Indians start the season 5-0. Jackson coach David Brummel said Haff's preparation during the offseason separated her from other players.
"The girls know her style of play, her dedication to the team, but they also know her work ethic," Brummel said. "They drive by the courts here when we're done with practice or on weekends and she's out here hitting. I think by that she kind of provides an example. The other girls see she sets the tone of what you have to do to excel in this game. She won't be one who will be yelling at the top of her lungs, but she leads more by example."
Haff didn't start playing tennis until the summer before her freshman year at Jackson. She credits her father with getting her interested in the game. He played when he was growing up, and he said he always thought she might be interested in picking up the game. She played basketball and soccer when she was younger, but she wanted to switch to an individual sport.
"If someone messes up, I can only blame myself," she said. "But with a team, if you mess up, you ruin it for the whole team."
She started playing with one of her father's old metal rackets, a Jimmy Connors or Pete Sampras model. She also used a racket she got at Wal-Mart during her early days.
Steve asked her when she first started playing how much effort she planned to give to the sport, and she said she wanted to be the best player possible. He wasn't surprised by her answer.
"She's a very determined young lady," he said.
She threw herself into the sport and hasn't looked back. She hits the courts as often as possible, usually against her father when he's available. If he isn't, Erinne plays her mother. She can't get enough time on the court.
"I play every day, sometimes twice a day," she said. "I've hit about a billion balls."
Brummel took over as Jackson's coach during Haff's sophomore year. He said her skills have progressed at an impressive rate during her high school career.
"From a sophomore to a junior, I saw a great amount of growth there," he said. "Now as a senior, it just keeps going. She's been adding new tools to her game. Her serve is very effective now. She's reduced her errors and reduced her double faults."
Part of Haff's improvement can be attributed to the lessons she takes. For the last year, she has traveled to Paducah, Ky., for lessons. She had been going once a week, but is down to about twice a month now that the high school season started. She's thankful her parents committed to helping her improve her game with the lengthy trips.
"You do what you have to for your kids," Steve said. "We would make a day of it. The tennis was only part of it. We would stop for lunch and do things like that."
Haff said she capitalizes on her power to beat opponents. She claims her forehand is her strength, and that her greatest weakness is getting upset on the court. She carries a book in her bag that she uses to help her relax during matches. It's filled with quotes, pictures of professional players and advice from her coach in Paducah to help her focus during matches.
Haff's contributions to the Jackson team don't end with her singles play. She also teams with fellow senior Alison Keiper at No. 1 doubles.
"We've got some good chemistry going on," Keiper said. "It's going really well. I like playing with her. She likes baseline and I'm a monster at the net.
"We both know how to play doubles, technique and stuff like that. We'll pick each other up after a point if someone messes up. We'll just shake it off."
The pair is 4-1 at No. 1 doubles this season.
Haff hopes her improvement continues through the season. She's set a goal of reaching her first state tournament, and wants to play in college. She's talked with Truman State and Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis about playing next year, and knows success during her senior year will be crucial to landing a spot on a college roster next year.
She also knows the time spent over the summer on the court with her parents will play a big role in accomplishing her goal. Plus she got to spend quality time with her parents, an added bonus.
"It's a lot of fun," Sue said. "We'll miss it when she leaves for college."