Photo by Jeff Yoder
Your Prep Sports
IOWA CITY – The start of postseason play presents a question for some of the most accomplished tennis players in the state.
Singles or doubles?
As one of a select group of players statewide with the ability to chase a state title a singles player or as part of a doubles team Emma Koch faced that very question for her first two seasons at West High.
Koch took a shot at both her first two years, earning a state medal in singles as a freshman before winning a state doubles title last year.
Her final two seasons there was no question which path Koch would select.
Before the first match of her career Koch made a deal with West High coach Amie Villarini that as soon as her younger sister Audrey joined the team she would play doubles.
“Right away my freshman year I asked Amie if I could play doubles with Audrey my junior and senior year,” Emma Koch said. “There are very few people that get that opportunity so I wanted to take full advantage of it.”
That plan has worked to perfection.
The Koch sisters are a perfect 14-0 this season and enter the Class 2A state Tournament on Wednesday at the Hawkeye Tennis and Recreation Center as the top seed.
The West High duo will face the Ankeny Centennial squad of Alyssa Lewton and Alli Gustafson in the opening round of the state tournament at 10 a.m. on Wednesday.
“Emma had done singles freshman year and she told me right away she wasn’t going to play singles junior or senior year because she wanted to try to get to state playing doubles with,” Audrey Koch said. “I’m just excited to have the chance to play for a state championship with her.”
Emma Koch has manned the number one singles spot in the West High lineup from the first match of her career.
Before her freshman campaign that ended with a sixth-place singles finish, Koch sat down with Villarini to talk about a career blueprint.
“I asked her because I wanted to map out her four years here, are we going to do singles are we going to do doubles and she said right away that she really wanted to have that opportunity to play with her sister and I can respect that,” Villarini said. “It’s a good opportunity in their high school years to play with your family.”
Koch made it clear in that meeting she would do anything Villarini asked to help the team.
Last season Villarini paired Koch with senior Abby Jans and the duo responded by winning a state doubles title.
While the doubles success started for Koch last season this season with her younger sister is what she had waited for the past two seasons.
“When I was a freshman Amie said he wanted me to play singles and I said I would do whatever she wanted the first two years but it would be awesome if I could play doubled the last two years,” Emma Koch said. “It’s been awesome that she has been able to allow me to do that.”
The decision to go with doubles was made years ago and neither sister deviated from that plan for a minute despite unbeaten seasons in singles play.
Emma Koch is 16-0 playing at number one singles while Audrey has posted a 15-0 mark in the number two singles position as a freshman.
Both would be state title contenders in the 2A singles bracket this week if they chose that route but it wasn’t what either wanted.
“I definitely think that we could compete in singles but I think we have a lot more fun in doubles,” Emma Koch said. “We just enjoy it more.”
Audrey Koch will have two seasons of tennis after her older sister graduates to think about pursing a state singles title.
For now she wants to spend as much time on the court with Emma as possible.
“I would rather do doubles for sure,” Audrey Koch said. “I’m definitely trying to maximize the amount of time I get to play with here. It’s such a cool experience and I love getting to play with her.”
Despite growing up around the game the two had rarely played on the same side of the net.
It took some time but the sisters have quickly become one of the top doubles teams in the state.
I feel like we have continued to get a lot better since the beginning of the season and the City High meet,” Audrey Koch said. “We have improved with our strokes and our serves and everything.”
Both standing over 5-foot-10 the Kochs provide an intimidating tandem as a doubles squad.
“They have length and power and the ability to come up with shots and run down balls,” Villarini said. “They have extra extension to get that one more ball back when people think they have finished but they make you hit one more ball.”
Emma was a starter and Audrey a key reserve on the West High basketball team that claimed the 5A state title in March.
Now the sisters will try to add another state crown at the two-day state tennis tournament that concludes on Thursday afternoon.
“I think that’s definitely the goal for doubles to win a state championship,” Emma Koch said. “There will be some really good matches but I think we have a really good chance.”