During a break from sports due to COVID-19, get to know the coaches of Vermillion High School athletics.
Kari Jensen coaches girls’ tennis in the fall and boys’ tennis in the spring. She is the sixth-grade World Cultures teacher at the Vermillion Middle School.
Jensen began coaching about 15 years ago in middle school girls’ and boys’ basketball and middle school track. Seven years ago, she became the assistant coach for high school girls’ basketball.
“Once I moved to that, I realized how much I enjoyed working with high school athletes,” said Jensen. “I didn't want to coach tennis at first as I enjoyed having the fall season ‘off’ so I could work on my classroom and getting to know my students.”
Jensen played tennis from middle school to the collegiate level at the University of South Dakota.
“I have always had great respect for the sport,” said Jensen. “Once I agreed to coach, it was definitely one of the best decisions I have ever made.”
She enjoyed the girls she coached as they were coachable and supportive of one another. Jensen taught her players how tennis combines physical and mental toughness.
“The great thing about tennis is you don't necessarily have to be the best athlete, but know how to play to your strengths and expose your opponent’s weaknesses,” said Jensen. “I watched my young seventh-grade girls this year go from nervous, immature athletes, to being strong-minded and not at all intimidated by their older opponents. I watched my senior Katrina Heles, come back from a huge deficit to defeat our rival Lennox. I observed Emma Dahlhoff, our junior, who played No. 1 singles, give every opponent her all and scaring many into a withering mess. I saw our sophomore Lauren Mandernach, always so shy in the classroom, to being a terror at the net.”
Jensen coaches because of her love for the sport, but she finds the relationships built to be the most important.
“Our set of twin seniors, Madi and Hope, continued to provide positive energy for us all,” said Jensen. “They came up with our code word ‘pineapple.’ When we yell it out we all know to pick ourselves up and continue on, no matter the obstacle before us.”
Jensen said the boys she coaches in the spring were the same way in being the underdogs and maintaining positive attitudes.
The ongoing pandemic has shown coach Jensen how important sports are to herself and her athletes.
“The physical exercise can be done elsewhere, but the mental toughness and team concept cannot be replaced with a Zoom meeting,” said Jensen. “The relationships that you build through sports, by being a part of something bigger, is so important.”
She points out how tennis is an individual sport, yet also a team sport.
“The support of your teammates watching you in a battle against another player is a great feeling,” said Jensen. “A feeling that we seem to be missing these days. Do sports hold value? Yes, it's not just the love of competition and the chance to better yourself, but the relationships that you build through practice, road trips, and matches. I miss it. I hope it comes back soon.”