As the Dutch Fork Silver Foxes begin what they hope will be a long postseason run, they look to seasoned No. 1 singles player Lauren Joch to lead them.
Joch, who has three seasons under her belt as a freshman, has posted several inspiring victories throughout the season to help the Silver Foxes to a No. 1 seed out of Region 4-4.
The Silver Foxes, who last year fell to Mauldin 6-0 in the Class 4A title match, are 17-0 after defeating Richland Northeast 6-0 in Tuesday’s first round.
Joch is 16-1 overall, undefeated in the regular season.
If there is pressure that goes along with that, Joch does not show it.
“She handles it very well,” third-year coach Gina Hilts said. “One of her strengths is her mental game. She’s where she definitely does her best.”
Joch is young, but she is a serious competitor.
Ranked fourth in the state in USTA competition — 57th in the Southeast region — Joch led the Silver Foxes to victory at the prestigious Belton Hall of Fame Classic in 2011 and to third-place there in 2012.
Joch bumped heads with Mauldin’s Ansley Speaks at last year’s final, where she suffered her only loss of the 2012 season. Joch then went 1-2 at the state singles tournament.
This year, Joch and the Silver Foxes took the title at the Florence Preseason tournament.
“This year, I hope we win state,” said a low-key Joch. “We need teamwork and for us to bond as a group to win the championship.”
To help the Silver Foxes improve, Joch has encouraged her teammates to practice ardently, and focuses on modeling the kind of on-court determination she believes will take Dutch Fork to the next level.
“She doesn’t say much,” Hilts said. “But she takes care of it on the court. She goes out and plays her game.”
Joch is one of three young players at the top of Dutch Fork’s ladder. Samantha Calais at No. 2 singles and Alison Walsh at No. 3 singles also are freshmen.
“Sam and Lauren have made a big difference. Having them up at the top, it just really strengthens the whole lineup,” Hilts said.
“I was really nervous coming into it, but it felt good to come in and be able to play on top,” said Calais, a transfer in her first year with the team. “Playing with Lauren is always fun, because she likes to stay focused and positive but keep it fun.”
Though Joch and Calais have paired together once for the Silver Foxes, they have played together for several years in juniors tennis. Hilts said they are an effective team that the Foxes can count on for a win.
As the Silver Foxes’ confidence builds, Joch and the team’s young leaders look forward to celebrating at the end of a long season.
“I think each match we’ll get better and better until the end,” Joch said.
“This season has been great, and I think the postseason is going to be even better,” Hilts said.