Ririe High School may be better known for its basketball and wrestling success, but that’s never stopped Annalee Ball.
Ball is a tennis player. She’s also a student at a small school that doesn’t have a tennis team or even courts on its campus.
“Very few people know how much work went into this,” said Ball, describing her run to a 3A state singles championship last month.
It wasn’t easy and the journey was definitely unorthodox, but Ball, who’s played tennis since she was 9, forged her own path this spring, and is the Post Register’s All-Area Girls Tennis Player of the Year.
As the only tennis player from Ririe, Ball was able to play with the Thunder Ridge team this past season due to a state rule that allows players who meet the criteria to compete in a cooperative program with other schools.
While she was able to practice and play with the Titans during the regular season, Ball had to work her way through districts as a Ririe player. She advanced to the state tournament for the fourth time, but this year proved special. After finishing as runner-up in 3A girls singles the past two years, Ball cruised through the state tournament, winning the 3A title match , 6-1, 6-2 over Grace Soulen of Weiser.
“I was surprised,” Ball said. “You never know what’s going to happen in tennis. So even though I was ahead by a lot, it didn’t feel like it in my head, especially at the state championship. It was just a fight for every point.”
Ball won’t take full credit for her championship. She credited area coaches, especially Heath Hartman at Thunder Ridge, administrators at both schools who took care of the co-op process, along with her parents and Sue Hunter, a family friend who’s helped coach Ball while at Ririe. Rigby, Madison and Skyline were just a few of the schools who helped Ball in her high school career, she said.
Continuing the unorthodox theme, Ball also found some inspiration in the fall from a new sport. Faced with occasional bouts of tediousness, she decided to take up cross-country her senior year.
“I was getting burned out,” she said. “I decided to do running to help me stay fit physically, but it ended up completely changing my tennis game …Tennis is really a mental sport, so mentally it taught me how to push through even when I wanted to stop.”
Ball is headed to Utah State in the fall and is leaning toward studying environmental engineering. She said she’s content to wrap up her competitive tennis career with a state title and won’t play in college, with the exception being possibly playing intramural.
“I like to do other things, too,” Ball said.
But before she leaves, Ball did collect a memento for Ririe High.
Because the singles title was worth 20 team points, Ririe earned fourth place in the final team standings despite fielding just one player.
Now the school without a tennis team or a court has a trophy from the tennis state championships to go along with its numerous basketball and wrestling trophies from the last seven years.