By Josh Sigler
A recurring theme this spring, Howard County’s girls tennis squads have, for the most part, been in a holding pattern, waiting for the weather to turn so they can get outside and shake off the rust that comes with winter time in Indiana.
With snow up until the end of March, followed by spring break and then a forecast chock full of rain, the first matches of the season will double as preseason practice in many respects.
Four of the five county schools return the bulk of their varsity rosters from a season ago, a season which saw Eastern claim a sectional title.
The following are season outlooks for each school in order of season record from last season.
The Comets boasted a 16-7 record a season ago, claiming their second sectional crown in a row and third in the last four seasons.
With five of his seven varsity players returning, coach Pat Rice is cautiously optimistic his squad can continue its winning ways.
“The weather hasn’t been great, but we know we’re not alone,” Rice said. “Everyone is dealing with the same thing. The nice thing for us is that more girls worked all winter in the tennis center than we’ve had in the past. The toughest thing right now is getting challenge matches in. We’re still trying to figure out lineups.”
In singles play, all three return with varsity experience, led by sophomore Courtney Clark, who will hold down the No. 1 spot. Junior Riley Kanable will do battle at No. 2 singles and classmate Claire Holkenbrink is in the No. 3 singles slot.
Senior MaKayla Sargent and junior Marie Holkenbrink are penciled in right now at No. 1 doubles, while varsity newcomers, junior Rachel Manfred and sophomore Marissa Evenson, are preliminarily penciled in at No. 2 doubles.
Czech exchange student Nela Koziskova and sophomore Megan Dean also have a chance to crack the varsity lineup at some point.
“I definitely think our girls are hungry to win the sectional again, and that’s been evident in their work ethic,” Rice said. “They’ve worked really hard. We didn’t start off great in our first match [a 3-2 loss to Cass Tuesday], but we’ll get better as the season goes. We don’t want to peak in April, we want to peak in May like last year.”
After a 9-9 campaign in 2012, Purple Tigers coach Kristine Miller will have the task of replacing five seniors who all played varsity tennis at some point last season. Miller does return four athletes with varsity experience, however.
“From a coaching standpoint I think that we’ve handled it as well as we could’ve,” Miller said of the preseason weather. “It’s been difficult in terms of playing outside only a handful of times before our first match. With eight freshmen learning the ropes of the game, bad weather has made that more difficult. But, our attitudes have been good, and we’ve done as much indoors as we could. We’re just ready to get started.”
Junior Emily Harshman played No. 2 singles last season and will step into the No. 1 role this time around. Sophomore Alexis Hungate spent time at No. 3 singles and No. 2 doubles as a freshman and will hold down the No. 2 singles spot to start the season.
Freshman Georgia Williamson spent time at the indoor tennis center in Greentown fine-tuning her game and appears ready for the rigors of the varsity game. She’ll begin the season at No. 3 singles.
Junior Madison Wells and sophomore sister Sydney Wells will make up the No. 1 doubles team. Both saw some varsity action a season ago.
At No. 2 doubles, junior Erica Plutat and sophomore Gabriella Matly will take to the court. Sophomores Megan Floyd and Kady Whitehead also have a chance to see varsity court time in the early going.
“My team has shown nothing but hard work and good attitudes, but I don’t know what that will [mean heading] into this season,” Miller said. “We’re a young team focused on improving and being technically sound and competing to the best of our ability. If we go out and surprise anybody it’d be icing on the cake.”
The Panthers went 7-8 last season but have already given new coach Amy Messer the first win of her career with a 3-2 victory over Frankfort on Tuesday.
Messer, who played collegiately at Grace College, will have the task of replacing an outgoing class that included No. 1 singles player Nicole Rogers, who now plays basketball at IUPUI.
“It definitely has its challenges, but I have a really good group of girls this year and a nice base to start things off with,” Messer said. “The weather has affected us a lot. We were only able to practice outside four times before our first match, and when we were able to go outside it was very windy and very hard conditions to play in.”
Senior Allison Lindley, a University of Iowa golf recruit, is back out for tennis for the first time since her freshman year. She has shown little rust, so much so that she will take over the No. 1 singles position.
Senior Natalie Warrum is a varsity returner and will take the No. 2 singles spot, and sophomore varsity new comer Bailey Harbaugh is slated to start the season in the No. 3 singles slot.
Junior Molly Shoffner and sophomore Cora Jackson appear to have the upper hand on making up the No. 1 doubles team, while senior Victoria White and sophomores Jessica Hopkins and Allie Ault are all in the running to claim a spot on the No. 2 doubles team.
“I think we have a lot of potential, especially with Allison back as strong as she is. She is a good solid No. 1 spot to have,” Messer said. “Our doubles will be a challenge and we’re looking for a lot of development there, but we’ll be very strong in singles play. I think we have a good future ahead of us.”
Fresh off an 8-10 campaign and a sectional runner-up finish, the Wildkats will welcome in their third new coach in four years in Natalie Raney.
Raney is a 2001 KHS grad with a decorated tennis career. She made a trip to the individual state finals as a sophomore member of the No. 1 doubles team. The Kats won the North Central Conference in her junior season, then made a deep tournament run to the semistate her senior year.
Raney returns five players with varsity experience.
“It’s exciting. I have a great group of girls,” Raney said of coaching the program she used to play in. “They’re very coachable, but unfortunately, they’re on their third coach in four years, so there’s been an adjustment period, especially for the seniors. They are on their third coach since they were freshmen. I’m excited for this group of girls, and we’re hoping to improve upon where we were last year.”
Senior Morgan Mohr returns for her third season at No. 1 singles.
Sophomore Amanda Tran saw time at No. 3 singles a season ago, and after a steep offseason improvement, will step into the No. 2 position.
Freshman Rachel Stout appears to have the upper hand at the No. 3 singles spot, a “real surprise and added bonus to the team,” according to Raney.
Doubles tandems are still up in the air due to lack of practice time, but senior Brooke Grider and junior Stephanie Kailey will likely begin the season at No. 1 doubles, while senior Riley Vyain and AnneMarie Balsbaugh appear to be the front runners for the No. 2 duo.
“I think the season will tell, but anything can happen,” Raney said. “It’s going to be a rebuilding and learning season. I’m learning from them as much as they’re learning from me. Our main goal is to improve on last year’s end result. We all have an eye on the sectional title. We lost it last year to Eastern and getting it back is our main goal. The girls have a lot of potential and just have to work every day and keep improving. I hope the weather gets better so we’re able to do that.”
Coach Dave Wise has 13 players out for the spring, 10 of which have little to no experience on the court.
Wise’s singles lineup will feature three varsity veterans, however, as the Titans look to improve upon last season’s 3-11 campaign.
“As inexperienced as we are, the weather really hasn’t helped,” Wise said. “I feel like I’ve had two practices. We’re either in the gym hitting on the wall or we’ve had short practices outside where it’s been cold and windy. If you have a lot of experience it doesn’t make much difference, but when six of your 13 have never played before — we need a lot of court time.”
Senior Logan Kimbler returns at No. 1 singles for the Titans. Wise is hoping for a successful season out of her.
“Playing No. 1 singles is tough, especially if you only get to do it for one year,” Wise said. “She gets another chance at it so we’re looking forward to this year. In her 17 matches last year, Logan faced 13 seniors, and that’ll be a good thing for her now that she’s the senior with experience coming back.”
Juniors Maria Owens and Jessica Fox made up the No. 1 doubles team last year, and will move to No. 2 and No. 3 singles, respectively.
Sophomore Heather Street played some doubles last season and returns to the No. 2 tandem, where she could be joined by a number of people, including sophomore twins Aly and Lexis Davis, sophomore Heidi Bonus or junior Lauren Shively, who is back out for the team for the first time she her freshman year.
“If someone has athletic ability, they can make the jump to the varsity level fairly quickly,” Wise said. “But with so little practice time it’s hard to tell who will be able to do that. It’s hard to judge until you start playing. ... Doubles may be tough for us in the early going, but I think our singles players can be competitive with a lot of schools.”