Serving and backhanding from Chanute’s tennis players has been going on all summer. And this week practice officially started.
Since the beginning of June, the Lady Blue Comets participated in “tennis night” a few days throughout the week, engaging in basic tennis drills at the Chanute Community Sports Complex. Weeks later, there was a weeklong team camp in the beginning of August.
Longtime girls’ tennis coach Mike De La Torre said he saw a lot of bright spots in his team during the camp, which included weight training overseen by head football coach Clete Frazell that has noticeably spruced the energy and play of the team.
“The girls really worked hard, a lot of team spirit, and I just love the way they were able to gel as a team, everybody coaching each other and cheering each other on, pushing each other to become better, and so it was just really good.”
The only bad part about building team chemistry is the kind of climate the Lady Blue Comets have to prepare in. The coronavirus (COVID-19) has devastated the nation since March, when cases really started to spike, which led to sports leagues at all levels around the nation to cancel or postpone sports. The Kansas State High School Activities Association went on to implement health precautions for sports to follow before the organization in late July voted for sports to continue on as originally scheduled.
Still, KSHSAA recommended sports to follow the “risk mitigation considerations” that were put out in July as well, which for tennis included guidelines such as “following screening recommendations, practice social distancing, sanitize hands regularly, wearing a mask, opening two cans of tennis balls that do not share the same number on the ball,” among many other safeguards.
And this is exactly what De La Torre and assistant tennis coach Max Ruark have been following. In fact, the team hasn’t been doing anything different since the beginning of summer when it comes to health measures: De La Torre has been beckoning the usage of hand sanitizer before and after practices, taking temperatures, wearing masks and imploring social distancing.
With practice officially beginning for all sports in the state of Kansas this week, the 20-year or so tennis coach has required his team to bring their own water to practice since tennis members aren’t in school yet. When school starts next week, however, De La Torre will use a water plan as the team promptly transitions from classroom work to practice rather seamlessly: only Ruark and De La Torre, who will be wearing a mask and gloves, will fill players’ containers up with water.
“It’s so different this year; it’s funny with the COVID-19, we even have to have precautions for them to have water, and trust me, they have to have water with the heat and everything, we watch that very closely too,” De La Torre continued.
To De La Torre -- and most folks -- these health standards are very important. But he does feel a little bit better since the coronavirus “does not spread easily from touching surfaces or objects” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website and, his sport, tennis, is categorized as a moderate risk activity according to the National Federation of State High School Associations.
Attuning himself to those kinds of precautionary methods in the current state of the country, De La Torre has led his team in getting work done in the first official week of practice, including performing groundstrokes, volleys, overheads, lobs, net play and of course, serving. There has been a session in every practice to work on serves, too, but more so enjoyable drills that the Lady Blue Comets seem to be fond of. On Wednesday evening, the team played in actual matches for the first time in an effort to get the newbie tennis players up to speed.
Players who have already been through the process and have moved on, contributing to the success of Chanute’s tennis program, are doubles team Lilly Falk and Filippa Kyed. Falk graduated, while Kyed was a foreign exchange student; both qualified for state last year, finishing in eighth place in doubles matches.
There are just four lettermen on this year’s team with three of the four having limited varsity experience -- the tennis team lost nine players overall. One player with the most experience is senior Kori Babcock, who qualified for state the last two years. Babcock won a match last year in state, too.
“I’m hoping she can do it again, but we will have to see,” De La Torre said. “Kori will probably be a No. 1 singles.”
Junior Aimee Maxton is another tennis player who has worked extremely hard to get to where she is at today. De La Torre has noticed her maturation process, and Maxton said she made sure of it.
“This summer I was focusing on my serving and overhead shots,” Maxton said. “I hope that this season I’ll be hitting a lot more overheads and having good groundstrokes too. ... They (fans) can also expect to see some net action now. I was afraid to play on the net for the longest time but now I think it’s fun. Hopefully this year I will be playing some doubles too.”
Sophomores Tyra Bogle and Grace Thompson will be back in action as well, with these student-athletes likely playing doubles. Both players are very athletic, and De La Torre predicts they will have productive tennis careers in high school.
Three other tennis players will be fighting for a spot. Sophomores Lena Aguilar, Aaliyah Colding and Gracie Palet will all be jockeying for position. De La Torre said these players will likely also play in doubles, competing a lot on the varsity level and limited junior varsity time.
Coaching is an art. And to do the job well one must exhibit the characteristic of getting the best out of a player at any moment, which is why De La Torre is excited for his new athletes: sophomore Laynee Joyce, as well as freshmen Jeanette Guernsey, Mackenzie Leroy, Zoie Speaks and Faith Fewins.
While these underclassmen are new to the game, De La Torre has seen exponential growth in their tennis development throughout the summer. And for that, both CHS coaches are proud of their players.
The team last year, though, had an experienced bunch, which led CHS to a second-place finish in the league last year -- just behind Independence, but ahead of Parsons and Pittsburg.
Another feat last year: CHS tennis finished in 11th place out of 20 high schools.
So, it may be challenging, De La Torre said, to match this kind of success, but if the Lady Blue Comets trust the tennis process, he wouldn’t be surprised if his impassioned group maximizes their talent, duplicating last year’s achievement.
Up next for the team is practice the next few days followed by next week’s games. Junior Varsity plays on Monday at 3 pm at home against Coffeyville and Labette County, while the first varsity meet -- the Chanute Invitational -- is Thursday, 3 pm at home versus Labette County, Iola, Columbus and Neodesha.