It’s 2 p.m. on a Wednesday, and instead of dozing off in seventh hour, junior Caro Bush is running laps around the tennis court. Dripping in sweat, she whips her right arm across her body and returns a serve with a backhand swing. This is just the beginning– Bush has three more hours of practice ahead of her. But making it to state with the rest of her team made sprinting back and forth across a tennis court in the blazing heat worth it. That sense of victory that runs in the East tennis team is what keeps Bush and the rest of the team motivated.
Most of the top six girls on varsity don’t have a seventh hour, so that they can practice tennis for two to four hours, after school, along with the two hours they play for East practice.
For the 18th time since 1998, the girls’ tennis team will be going to state. For the tight-knit group of girls working to keep this legacy of success alive, they have had to dedicate a significant amount of time and energy in order to get to state again. At their regional meet, the team beat their biggest competitor, Blue Valley North, and all of the varsity girls qualified for state again.
“After [junior] Sarah Wilcox beat a girl [at regionals], who had previously beaten her, Sarah is now the number one seed [for singles] going into state,” Coach Andrew Gibbs said. “Those are some of my favorite moments, when you get to watch the girls succeed at something they’ve been practicing for.”
To get to the point where they are now, varsity player Gretchen Cooper explained that practice is a key part of the tennis players’ lives. The girls have been playing tennis since a young age, and they continue to practice for two hours a day, even in the off season. Junior Larkin McLiney thinks that playing for the same academy team in the off season also helps in leading the girls to success, since they get to play with each other so often and get used to each other’s quirks. Practices typically consist of practicing hits, footwork drills and then playing matches against each other, since they are each other’s hardest competition.
“We pinpoint each of the girl’s strengths, and then [during practice] work to develop off of those skills and enhance other aspects of their game,” Coach Gibbs said.
Bush believes that the tradition of success within the East tennis team stems from the players investing so much time and effort into practices, and from all the girls on the team motivating each other.
As a tennis ball comes flying in McLiney’s direction, she winds her arm back, swings and misses. Take two– same thing happens, but there is still encouraging shouts and claps from her teammates.
“I love having a great team that helps pick me up when I am not playing my best and inspire me to be just as good as they are,” McLiney said.
According to Coach Gibbs, when other tennis players see the girls’ tennis team achieving success and being so close with each other, they want to share in that. So, more girls practice and get involved, and it creates a cycle that goes on to bring success. Likewise, Sue Chipman, who was the head coach from 1998 to 2015, believes the tennis program gets a large turnout in the number of girls who play because the team is like an extended family.
After the long hours of practice, the girls will pile into the seniors cars, blare music and celebrate with QuickTrip icees. Since a tennis team’s success is based on how the girls performs both individually and in pairs, they have to have a special bond because they rely on each other in all situations. For many of the girls, the team aspect is what keeps them going. Senior Allie Libeer explained that within the tennis team, they support each other at matches and have “families,” which consists of girls in all grades who do activities together outside of practice.
To be able to sustain such a legacy of success, the tennis team has to have some guidance along the way. McLiney explained that the teams’ great coaches and positive environment that they establish sets them up for success. After her 17th year Chipman retired last year, so this year they welcomed Coach Gibbs to the team.
“I felt more interior pressure to continue the success of the team,” Coach Gibbs said. “Normally, when a new coach comes in, they’re trying to rebuild a program, but that isn’t the case here. Here, we are trying to help these girls get to their next step and develop their skills.”
Through the girls’ hard work, dedication and support of each other, they are bound to get to that next step, and keep the tradition of success within the tennis team alive.