FORT SCOTT, Kan. -- Fort Scott High School's girls' tennis team is looking to improve this season even though the team has no seniors.
There are 15 players out for the team right now, seven who return from last year while one more player awaits the outcome of her physical before she can begin practice. The Tigers begin their season by hosting a junior varsity tournament at 3 p.m. Monday while the varsity season begins at Parsons, Kan., Thursday.
The Tigers didn't win a dual last season and none of the players won a varsity match as the team was dominated by sophomores and freshmen. What that brings this year is a team that learned some hard lessons in what it takes to win at the high school level.
"We've got a pretty good group of junior and sophomores who have got some experience," Fort Scott head coach Lynn Barr said before practice Friday. "They should have an idea what it's going to take to compete.
"It's been a good week of practice. Their attitude has been good. They've been working hard. In that case, we're definitely ahead of last year. But you don't have a year like we did last year and not have a ways to go to improve."
Returning juniors are Taylor Bailey, Lauren Caulfield and Kalia Dancy. Dancy is in her second year of tennis. Sophomores back are Ashlyn Baugher, Sam Carr, Ashley Allen and Heather Hobbs. Allen did not get to play very much as she suffered an injury early in the season. Bailey, Baugher, Carr and Dancy played mostly doubles while Caulfield and Hobbs played mostly singles.
New to the program this season are sophomore Hannah Messer and freshmen Michelle Buntain, Krista Hightower, Aubin Duff, Corina Harrison, Tamika Lambert and Tiffany Thorne.
With no seniors, it would seem to be clear that the juniors on the team will be counted on to lead the team.
"The interesting thing right now is, there are some sophomores that have stepped up," Barr said. "We need the junior to step up into leadership roles. Some of them have to an extent.
"The girls themselves got out and started playing a couple of weeks before practice got started. They were coming out about every day. They tried to kind of organize some pre-season practices themselves. They're trying to do some things to kind of build some team morale and try to improve."
Independence, which has won the last five Southeast Kansas League championships, is favored to come out on top once again. Barr says the other seven teams, aside from Fort Scott, are very close to each other in their level of play.
"Coffeyville lost (then-senior) Candace Chapman, who was a real player," Barr said. "Pittsburg lost some girls but should be pretty good. Chanute and Parsons should be pretty good. After Indy, it's kind of hard to say. We've got our work cut out for us in trying to improve on last year. We really can't worry about it. Everybody's the team to beat for us this year. We've just got to work our way up."
The lineups for the varsity are not set yet as the varsity team doesn't play for another five days. Right now, the players are playing off for positions in practice every day.
"We basically have started the last night or two playing off for positions," Barr said. "We'll get a kind of a starting ladder, hopefully, by the end of practice (Friday). We'll give some of the girls a chance to move up and make sure we have everybody in the right place.
"We are better in some areas than we were last year. And we do have some young kids with potential who can eventually be players."
NOTES -- The post-season format has changed again. The Sub-State round has been eliminated and Regionals are now back to the larger brackets they had prior to 2006. However, the top six placers will advance to State rather than the top four. Once at State, the top eight players will receive byes. The eight first-round losers will drop down to play one more match. The eight first-round winners move on to play the eight who had byes. The losers in that round will be eliminated....