Your Prep Sports
IOWA CITY – Even to most of her classmates at West High Emma Koch is probably best known as a basketball player.
That’s what happens when you pull down 24 rebounds in two games on the state’s biggest stage like Koch did last March at the 5A state tournament.
The 5-foot-11 Koch averaged a team-high 6.7 rebounds and added 7.3 points per game for West High last winter as a sophomore so her reputation as a hoops standout certainly fits.
It hasn’t always been all basketball all the time for Koch.
“I was definitely more serious about tennis before I was serious about basketball,” Koch explained. “I started taking tennis serious in about sixth grade and wasn’t really interested in basketball for a couple more years.”
Koch is still serious and seriously good at both sports.
She followed up her impressive sophomore basketball season with her best season to date on the tennis court.
Koch went 10-6 in her second season atop the West High lineup at No. 1 singles to help the Women of Troy to a 19-1 record and their first state semifinal appearance since 2013.
West High will face West Des Moines Dowling (19-0) at 9 a.m. on Saturday at Prairie Ridge Tennis Complex in Ankeny in the 2A state semifinals.
“Basketball is a good cross-training sport, she has gained physical fitness and strength and it’s amazing the athleticism that she has out there on the court,” West High coach Amie Villarini said. “My jaw drops to the floor sometimes with some of her shots.”
In her first season of varsity tennis last spring Koch finished sixth in singles at the Class 2A state meet.
This week Koch teamed with senior Abby Jans to win the Class 2A doubles title defeating the third-seeded team of Hannah Sherman and Kelly King from Cedar Rapids Washington 7-6, 6-3 in the title match.
All the success has come as a slight surprise to Koch.
“Last year I definitely surprised myself because I had kind of slowed down on tennis a little bit,” Koch said. “This year I had a couple match losing streak but I was able to bounce back from that.”
Koch played every sport she could growing up with the plan to narrow it down as she got older.
She took up tennis at age eight and was playing competitively by the time she was 10.
The individuality of the sport is what hooked Koch early.
“It’s cool to be out there alone, you don’t have to rely on anybody,” Koch said. “I think that’s what initially drew me to it.”
By her freshman season, basketball had surpassed tennis as the sport of choice for Koch.
Leading up to her freshman season Koch confessed to Villarini basketball had taken up more of her time.
“She told me when we started the season she hadn’t picked up a racket for fourth months during basketball,” Villarini said. “You could still see the type of talent she had.”
A multi-sport athlete herself during her prep days at West High, Villarini talked to Koch about finding time for tennis during the winter.
Koch made time during the winter to hit at the Hawkeye Tennis and Recreation Center once a week, often with Cedar Rapids Prairie senior and 2A singles runner-up Vale Caro.
“During the winter I tried to get out once a week and that made a big difference this season,” Koch said. “Just that time on the court a couple times a month helped.”
Juggling the sports can be tough with basketball commanding so much time but Villarini can relate.
“I was a multi-sport athlete when I played here at West High, I was a varsity basketball player too and tennis player and I can relate with Emma with the juggling of the sports,” Villarini said. “I told her I was still doing my one-hour private lessons once a week even during basketball season to keep my racket in my hand and this year she did that and I think that helped.”
Koch wants to play college basketball and saw an uptick in recruiting interest this spring.
That doesn’t mean she will ever spot playing tennis.
“It’s a life-long sport and I love it because honestly you just learn so many life lessons in tennis,” Koch said. “You are out there all alone, people can cheat, you have to figure out how to pick yourself back up.”