Freeman and the Knights had been together since the program began. She greeted the first class of freshmen, which included No. 1 singles player Jeremy Mims, and watched as they matured as players.
With that first class playing their senior seasons in 2013, Freeman had a feeling it would be special.
But it didn’t go quite as expected.
Freshman Ben Van Hout tried out for the team and earned the spot at No. 2 singles, which shook up the roster. A major midseason change was needed before the Knights were on track to an eventual Region 7AAAA title and trip to the Class AAAA state playoffs.
For guiding the team through a season of changes, Freeman is the 2013 Cherokee Tribune Boys Tennis Coach of the Year.
“We made a lot of adjustments,” Freeman said. “We made a lot of major roster changes.”
The biggest change came at midseason during the Marietta Classic. Jake Hicks moved from doubles to singles, while Gabe Mims moved from singles to doubles — after never before playing doubles.
Freeman said the season was all about adjustments from the start.
“We underwent some growing pains,” she said. “When you come in as a freshman and you play varsity because you are the only class, then you play varsity as a sophomore or junior because you are the only one there, then someone comes along like Ben and it changes things. It was a growing experience at the beginning.”
Freeman said her players needed to learn to play as a team rather than as individuals.
“I feel like the Marietta Classic was a true turning point where we decided to play as a team,” Freeman said. “Jake Hicks has always played doubles and he made that switch, and they knew we needed to come together to win with a new mix-up of players.”
Freeman said it isn’t unusual to make roster adjustments during the season, but any moves are often prompted by injuries.
That wasn’t the case for River Ridge. Freeman saw that her doubles team of Hicks and Clay McIntyre weren’t clicking anymore.
“A doubles team needs to work as one,” she said. “I don’t know if the players outgrew each other or what. I just knew it wasn’t working, and that was where we had always been the strongest, so we knew we needed a change.”
Because of his long, lanky frame, Gabe Mims was moved to doubles, where he could play at the net. He excelled in the role and helped River Ridge finish with a 15-7 record. The Knights lost to two teams — Union Grove and North Cobb — that ended up playing for their respective state titles, while their only loss to a Class AAAA school was against LaGrange in the state tournament.
Freeman would have rather seen River Ridge further in the playoffs, but knew it would be a challenge.
“We knew it was going to be tough,” said Freeman. “LaGrange just played better than we did on that day.”
Freeman and the Knights will be back next season for another state playoff run, albeit without the inaugural class. She feels confident they can continue to adjust and grow.
“We’ll just take what is left and keep going,” Freeman said. “We’ve got some good guys coming back, like Ben, and we’ll see what we can do next season.”