Current seniors, Mimi Fotopoulos and Mollie Cooper, were those freshman that fall day and without those two key players, a state championship would have been impossible. Three years later, that duo each looks poised to claim their respective state champion label, Fotopoulos in the singles and Cooper in the doubles. More importantly, they each have their eyes set on helping the team reclaim their top tier on the podium as state champs.
Heading into Wichita last Friday, they were the heavy favorites with longtime rival Blue Valley North trailing behind. With Fotopoulos and Cooper leading the team, this is a goal that they have been working towards since winning state their freshman year.
“Winning state this year would really mean a lot just because of the way the last two years have ended,” Cooper said. “It’s me and Mimi’s senior year and it would be a great way to give the freshman great motivation to keep up the winning tradition.”
In a sport where varsity consists of only six people, at the most, the insertion of Fotopoulos and Cooper into the Lancer’s tennis program three years ago was enough to take them from being a perennially good tennis team to a state contender. Right away the team’s focus was on winning state.
In their first year, six points was all that separated them and Blue Valley North giving the Lancers the state championship.
Despite winning, that tournament worked as motivation for the two to improve. With Cooper, her fourth place finish in doubles was still an accomplishment to be excited about, but she wanted more. Despite being ranked 33rd in the country, Fotopoulos was ranked second in the state and she wasn’t able to overcome that ranking as she lost in the finals. Finishing as the runner-up that year was reason to keep her coming back to high school tennis when the national circuit continued without her.
“It frustrated me losing freshman year in the finals,” Fotopoulos said. “I played [the same opponent] the next week in a tournament and I ended up beating her so that was tough and it really fueled the fire for me to be more determined the next few years.”
Ultimately that drive for another state championship, to go along with the team element that can’t be found anywhere else in the sport, is what ensured that Mimi and the team stayed together. Used to the lonely life on the national circuit traveling with just her coach and parents, Fotopoulos welcomes the break that comes with high school tennis and the camaraderie it brings.
“It’s just so much better playing for something: you know you’re playing for the Shawnee Mission East Lancers, not just for Mimi Fotopoulos out on court 59,” Fotopoulos said. “Here you’ve got the support of your teammates.”
The team’s hopes of state championships in 2010 and 2009 were frustrated by the depth of Blue Valley North. Even with East winning both the singles and doubles titles, they didn’t win the team title, but, with North graduating their best player, the tables have turned. With Cooper connecting with her doubles partner, junior Elizabeth Wilcox, and Fotopoulos’ singles competition graduating, they have been unstoppable. Ever since the beginning of their junior years, Fotopoulos and Cooper have been perfect on the tennis courts, not losing a match.
“Senior year is definitely the most important year [for tennis],” Fotopoulos said. “To finish it with bringing back the state championship team title to East and then hopefully win another state championship in the singles. Double crown, that’s a pretty good way to go out.”
With the state tournament scored out, by winning all of their matches the first day, they will have locked up the championship. As for Cooper and Fotopoulos retaining their crown: Cooper and Wilcox haven’t lost all season and Fotopoulos has defeated her most dangerous singles competition the seven times they’ve played.
“I was just happy to have a good team put together to hopefully bring back the state championship, for me that was the biggest thing on my mind,” Fotopoulos said. “Coming back this year, I was already lucky enough to have an undefeated season last year and a lot of people were saying, ‘Well, why come back this year?’ I wanted to bring home the state championship.”