Tennis enters the season with hopes to return some players to state and no large changes in protocols due to Covid-19.
WHS hits the courts at 3 p.m. Thursday in Wamego.
The Charger interviewed head coach Brendan Praeger and seniors Kendyl Bolinder and Reagan Feyh.
How are you feeling about the season so far?
Brendan Preager: “Honestly I’m really excited about the season because we have a lot of people in our senior class that have just gotten better and better each year. We came off a really good year last year, Kendyl and Raegan went to state, so I’m sure that they are confident coming back. I think that they’ve played a lot over the summer and they are really going to do well. We’ve really got a strong team, top to bottom we’ve got six or seven other players who are going to be competitive at the varsity level. It’s nice going into a season having lots of options. Like all the coaches, I’m hoping that the season goes well and we get to play as many meets as possible and nothing unexpected happens as far as Coronavirus — but we can’t really control that. So as for things we can focus on I’m pretty excited.”
What are some of the challenges you’re facing with Covid-19?
Praeger: “In the summer we had to wait a couple of weeks like everyone else. But I remember our first meeting with coaches and the county health director basically just said ‘I’m not too worried about tennis.’ You’re outside, it’s open air, the balls are not likely to transmit things, and you’re kind of naturally distanced in tennis. As far as our practices we did temperature checks and stuff but we didn’t really have to modify what we were doing. Once the season starts it will be a little different, but I really think it’s less of a change than some of the other sports are seeing. Players on each side will have their own balls instead of sharing balls at meets and there might be some meets where they split up singles and doubles so people are mingling less. We’ll have to wear mask when we’re not playing, opponents will sit on opposite sides of the court and you’ll tap rackets instead of shaking hands. Those things will be small. Once we get to regionals and state there will be a lot questions about what’s going on, but mostly I think tennis will look like it normally does to people.”=
What are some of your team’s strengths and weaknesses?
Kendyl Bolinder: “I think one of our biggest weaknesses is that we don’t have any sort of program until you get into high school. The people who play other sports have practice growing up and tennis starts in high school so you kind of start off not really having an idea of what you’re doing. So it’s hard to find people who are passionate about it because they don’t really have the opportunity to play it when they’re young.”
Praeger: “Neither of you had ever touched a racket until you started playing, so that’s definitely true. That’s one reason we started youth tennis last summer, we didn’t really get to do it this summer because of the virus, so we have a couple of younger players playing. But I do think that is a real problem because you have basketball and softball where you play from birth for some of these kids, so I think promoting the sport is a really big challenge for us. I also think as far as disadvantages it depends on who you’re comparing us to. A lot of other high schools are in the same situation as us. They have kids who start playing in high school and we play against them and then go to regionals and state and play against teams, like last year’s state champion Kansas City Christian, and they’re on a different level. So we play our best and can compete with them but it’s pretty difficult to compete against someone who has been playing semi professionally for ten years. I think that’s what kind of sets the best programs apart, so that’s a challenge to try to build towards that as much as we can.”
Are you looking forward to working with the new and younger players? Do you think you have some natural talent yet?
Praeger: “I do like working with some of the younger players. Some coaches only work with the varsity and they have an assistant work with the JV and that’s not really our situation. Some drills we’ll try to mix the groups so that we have experienced people working with new people. I think as a coach you have to kind of split your mind in half and have your eyes on this season and what we can do to win now and also what can we do to win a couple years from now. I think when (Kendyl and Raegan) were freshman you played a lot of JV meets, maybe one varsity meet and it was a good experience. If I just made you play all varsity I don’t know if it would have made you better but some of that’s good. Then starting your sophomore year you guys were on varsity because we had a small team when you came in. I think if you look at some of our juniors like Maddie Schurle and Sarah Vanstory, by default, the way graduation is they’re going to be on varsity next year. So we need to make sure that they’re ready to step into those roles. Danielle Murphy, she was a freshman last year, played some JV but this year we have to make sure that she’s up to speed because she’ll be on varsity next year. That’s a challenge for every coach but especially when you have a large senior class graduating.”
Who do you think some of the key players are going to be this season?
Praeger: “It’s kinda fluid in tennis. You have a number one in singles and a number two in singles and the same with doubles. So my expectation is that at this point Lily Ogden will probably be our number one singles player. She’s been just varsity for three years and she’s been playing well over the summer. She didn’t get to practice all summer but I think she’ll step up and play really well this year. Kendyl and Raegan are number one in doubles since they went to state last year. I think you two played two pretty good teams at state, but I don’t think you’re too happy with how that tournament went. Sometimes you go to state and you’re just like ‘we were so lucky to make it.’ I don’t think you guys are feeling like you were lucky you made it and that you can quit now. I think you guys are going to feel bad unless you can go back to state and you understand that starting at the beginning of the season is important. Those matches end up determining how you’re seated and you gotta be hungry the whole season. Our next group we have four or five players to compete for those other three spots. Mayah Mumpower played varsity for the last couple of years so as a junior she’ll probably be in one of those spots, whether she plays singles or doubles, we’ll see. Karlee Feyh has improved a lot over the summer so she’ll probably compete for that and Jayna Keller has improved a lot. Bri Devader just started last year. She’s a good athlete, if we can get her to be a little more consistent she could probably play singles or doubles. We’ll kind of mix those players up but then everybody has the chance to compete so all the other players on the team will have an opportunity as well.”
Kendyl and Raegan, how have you guys had to step up this year as leaders? And what else are you looking forward to about being seniors?
Kendyl: “I think one of the biggest things we’ve had to do as seniors is try to get other people fired up because we have a lot of fun playing tennis, but some people don’t look at it that way. We’ve just been trying really hard to get people excited and get people playing. I’m just excited about my last season because I’ve been working really hard in the off season and really want to finish strong.”
Reagan: “I’m excited to have our last year and hopefully make it back to state and do well.”
Praeger: “I think you guys really get to set the tone. At practice if the seniors aren’t working hard or focused nobody else will. In any sport the leaders have a lot of effect on that.”
When is the first meet of your season?
Praeger: “So far our schedule hasn’t really been changed by anything so hopefully it stays the same. Our first meet is August 27 at Wamego, always the first event of the high school season for any of the fall sports. It’s really great because it’s only ten miles away so people can come watch us. The fan experience will be largely unchanged unlike some other sports. Yyou’re supposed to wear masks. It’ll be fun to watch. I’m pretty sure we’ll see Wamego, Atchison, Sabetha, who we’ll see again at regional and state, and then we’ll play Topeka High. I think that’s the plan at this point at least. So far this year we dropped one of our meets in Salina and added one in Ellsworth so that’s going to be fun because we’re going to get to see a lot of other 3-2-1-A teams from the other side of the state. That’ll be a big meet and then we’ll have the meet at Perry-Lecompton where we’ll play eight or nine other teams so hopefully those meets can still continue. I know KSHSAA is kind of promoting the drop to smaller things but I think with tennis when you only bring six players it’s less of an issue than volleyball where you’re bringing sometimes two full squads. A suburban full of people is not as bad as a bus full of them.”
Why is it that you guys chose tennis and how would you sell it to incoming players?
Kendyl: “I think one of the biggest selling points for us was that tennis seemed a lot more relaxed than any other sports, so going into high school as a freshman we were really intimidated to play any sports. I really wanted to play tennis because I was terrified to play volleyball as freshman so we started going to summer practices and it just ended up being a lot more laid back and fun, so we stuck with it. I don’t think any of us thought that we would actually end up playing tennis, it just kind of started out as a joke.”
Reagan: “I started cross country in seventh grade and then volleyball in eighth grade and I hated it so much. So I was excited to have a new sport to get to try out to see if I liked it.”
Praeger: “I think when you guys came in we had a big team that year but it was almost all new people. You guys had a chance to be on varsity sophomore year. So for people coming in next year when we have six players returning, there are going to be a lot of opportunities, so if any of you eighth graders are listening, come play tennis. It’s a lot of fun.”