Could it be a fun, last hurrah? Pioneers hope to build momentum; Lions to reboot
The new season offers a lot of challenges for the Lansing and Leavenworth girls’ tennis programs. Lansing will have to rebuild a bit with the loss of state-qualifying graduates from a year ago, while Leavenworth quietly tries to build off of the successes they saw last year.
A program that confidently battled to a 5-5 overall dual record (2-4 in Sunflower League play) in 2016 returns four starters from that squad.
Senior Meredith Roberts will spearhead the Pioneers, who finished 11th in the Sunflower league tournament. The Pioneers will aim to have a good final go before moving on to the United Kansas Conference in 2018-19.
“Meredith placed 10th at league out of 24 single entries which was a great accomplishment for her,” LVHS head coach Shad Langfoss said of one of his state veterans who battled, but did not place, at the 5A state meet in Arkansas City, Kansas.
Junior Alexis Cole was a state qualifier in doubles in just her first season on the courts.
“She is a great student athlete who wants to compete and do well,” Langfoss said of Cole. “Unfortunately, with soccer being her main sport, it is hard for her to find the time to get out as much as I know she wants to.”
Leavenworth also brings in freshman Samantha Casmus who brims with promise.
“Samantha will stand out as a great addition to the team,” Langfoss said. “She has taken lessons over the past couple of years where I have seen her grow and strengthen her skills physically and mentally.
“Last year was an awesome year for the girls tennis team. They were able to qualify half of the varsity (for state). It has been many years since that happened. The team really started to gel and work as a team rather than six individuals. They bonded with each other and were able to give advice to the younger girls on the team and the younger ones were actually listening.”
The hope is to ride that momentum to greater heights in this final year of Sunflower competition.
“It takes a lot of time and money to invest if a player really wants to be competitive in the Sunflower League,” Langfoss said. “I always tell them, we are probably in the toughest tennis league in the state and they will go up against some to the best around. I know it is hard for the young players to grasp the concept that playing better people will make you better, but at the same time I know they do not like to lose. Knowing this makes it tough to have girls come out and stay out on the team.
“Many of the Olathe, Shawnee Mission and Lawrence schools offer tennis at the middle school where those kids are getting a head start compared to us around here. If more younger kids are exposed to the sports at a younger age, it will pay off for them when they get to the upper levels where it gets tougher and so much more competitive. This year could be another tough year for the whole team. I know we will get some individual wins, it is just getting enough of those individual wins … so we can say when we leave the Sunflower League we did not leave on the bottom.”
It was a pretty good tennis season for the Lions in 2016, when the Lansing girls combined to go 107-40 overall in matches.
Now, they will have to redefine themselves as all eight members of that squad are gone – six to graduation and two to moving abroad.
Leading the way out the door were Class 5A state doubles qualifiers Rachel Long, Sierra Brown and Marissa and Megan Petros.
“Last year was our second 100-win season as a team,” Lansing head coach Edward Fenton said. “We sent both of our doubles teams to state last season, with Rachel Long/Marissa Petros finishing ninth. Last year’s team had girls with years of experience that went into matches being the team that everyone was gunning for. Other schools spent a lot of practice time planning for us.
“This year, we have youth and enthusiasm on our side. Most of our girls have two or less years of tennis so they are still learning the game which makes for fun practices.”
Top junior varsity player Trinity Hall will be a key contributor this fall, as will Grace Schneider, who paid her dues with three years of junior varsity tennis.
“Trinity did a great job picking up the basics so quickly last season and I’m hoping to see her continued improvement,” Fenton said. “Grace is the most experienced player on the team.”
It’s going to be a memorable season and hopefully for more good reasons than the alternative.
“With us being so young, we really won’t know what to expect until our first match,” Fenton said. “Practice drills are great but until you get some matches in, you really don’t know how good you are. We’ll be playing girls that have been doing tournaments all summer and they’ll be match tough when we face them so we’ll have some challenges ahead of us.”