Heart & Soul of Verde Valey tennis<br>Part II

A new match

On the last day of 1997, Lineberry stepped down from his post at the Sedona Racquet Club and took on running pro tournaments full time. During 1998, he managed challenger events in Seattle, Burbank, Phoenix and San Diego.

But the itch to be more closely associated with the game drew him back to teaching again. “I found out I missed it,” he said.

In the summer of1998, the City of Cottonwood decided to refurbish its tennis center and began seeking bids for someone to take care of day-to-day activities. Lineberry jumped at the chance.

He has since turned the five-court center, located behind the public library, into a hub of tennis activity for the whole Verde Valley. It’s hard to believe now the town once pondered shutting the center down and doing something else with the land.

“This is the nicest tennis facility in the Verde Valley,” Lineberry said.

Lineberry runs USTA singles and doubles leagues for men, women and mixed crowds. His goal is to connect players of similar abilities from around the Verde Valley who might not otherwise find one another.

He holds clinics year round, including some he gave last month for free as a celebration of his 10-year anniversary in the Verde Valley. His junior club team based in Cottonwood competes about once a month around central and northern Arizona.

For the past three summers, he has held weeklong sports camps for youth ages 6-12 that teach tennis, golf and swimming – what Lineberry calls the lifetime sports. They’ve grown in attendance each year, with more than 150 participating this past summer.

“I know how much pleasure those activities have brought me,” Lineberry said. “Golf, tennis and swimming are a big part of life. Here’s an opportunity to learn the basics. It's been a huge success.”

Lineberry has also established a connection between the tennis center and New Visions Academy, an alternative charter school located across the street. Through a grant, he gives after-school lessons to kids a couple times a week. The focus becomes more than just how to swing a racquet, however. It’s also on self-esteem enhancement.

“That is the key thing in any individual sport,” Lineberry said. “I’ve really learned to build self-esteem in subtle ways. And this gets a different group exposed to the sport.”

About a year and a half ago, Lineberry took a similar position as a director of tennis at The Hilton Resort and Spa (formerly The Ridge) in the Village of Oak Creek.

Having a foot in both Red Rock Country and the Verde Valley has given him a chance to build bridges between the two tennis communities. Part of the fruits of that labor has been bigger leagues and tournaments, including the Verde Valley championships held this weekend.

Junior class

One of Lineberry’s fortés over the years has been his ability to coach junior players.

He worked closely with Charlie Bachtell from Sedona, who won a state title for Mingus Union in 1995, and Matt Oxendale, another Mingus state qualifier who graduated in June.

Bachtell went on to play at the University of Arizona. Oxendale received an athletic and academic scholarship to play at a Christian school in California.

Lineberry also spent time teaching Sotera Gacad-Cowan, a 16-year-old phenom who currently attends a tennis academy in Phoenix. “She’s going to be a great player," Lineberry said. “You’ll see her name all around."

Current players in his circle include Kyle and Brian Thieme from Clarkdale, and Theresa Ney and Julie Angrick from Sedona.

Kyle, a Mingus student, went to state in doubles as a freshman and will likely take over as the number one singles player this spring as a sophomore. Brian is only 11 but "would be number two or three on the (Marauder varsity) team right now," Lineberry said.

Ney has enjoyed success in junior events around the state and Four Corners region. Angrick will likely play number one or two at Red Rock High in the spring.

Lineberry’s most successful student thus far, K.J. Hippensteel, now plays at Stanford. The two worked together for many years in Virginia. The 6-3 redheaded lefty entered this season as the fifth-ranked collegiate player in the nation and earned a wildcard berth in the recent U.S. Open in August.

“He’s got the talent and the skills to make it,” Lineberry said. “You watch out. He’s got the heart of a champion. He’s like Secretariat. He leaves everything out there.”

One of Lineberry’s youngest prodigies shares his last name. His son, Alex, who just turned 9, has developed quite a game, his dad said. He's already competing in tournaments with success.

“He’s been swinging a racquet and a golf club since he was 2 years old,” Lineberry said.

Father and son spend quite a bit of time together, one of the kickbacks of Lineberry’s sports-related job, he said.

“Every day I go to work, it’s a blast. I can take my kid with me. He’s my playmate. We have a great time."

Future

Lineberry sees tennis gradually growing in popularity across the Verde Valley. Local tournaments and leagues have developed a core following, and new folks come around all the time looking for a place to learn or compete.

“There are more and more people coming to Cottonwood, making it their final home,” he said. “And they are playing tennis.”

He hopes to bring a sanctioned junior event to the Verde Valley/Sedona area in 2002. He may arrange another benefit concert with long-time friend Bruce Hornsby. He also plans to continue offering and upgrading the variety of clinics, personal lessons and tournaments. Teaching will always be his mainstay.

“I feel better about my abilities to teach than I ever have,” Lineberry said. "I'm able to see things much better now."

As for his personal game? He may have ripped up the tennis circuit while in his 20s and 30s – at one point earning a USPTA ranking of 15 in singles and top four in doubles. But we in the Verde Valley likely won't see him in match competition anytime soon.

“My 50-year-old legs, they’re better than most, but they’re not 18-year-old legs,” he said. “I want to go on as long as I can before my son beats me. But I don’t play that much. I enjoy watching Alex play.”

And spreading his love for the game.

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