FORT SCOTT -- Right now, it's probably good to be a girls' tennis coach at Fort Scott High School. Head Coach Lynn Barr, who's going into his 34th season, has five players with at least part-time varsity experience returning this season, three of whom have been past State Tournament qualifiers.
But it's not just that. What he's seen so far in five days of practice is a team that is pulling for each other, a sight that will please any coach.
"I really like the make-up of this team, the chemistry," Barr said. "It's a good bunch of girls. They get along but they're competitive. A lot of these girls have learned how to compete and they don't like to lose.
"But one of the big things that I see as a plus for this team, they don't get (envious) about someone else's success; they see it as a challenge. They say, 'I've got to get better.'"
There are 13 players out this season, four of whom are seniors. Four more are juniors. It's a low number, Barr says, but this means more playing time for the seven who will end up in the JV.
"They're going to get to play a lot," Barr said. "And they'll get more repetitions in practice."
Seniors Michelle Buntain and Corina Harrison, who qualified for State together last season, are back as the No. 1 doubles team. They went 18-10 last season and have complied a 36-23 record together in the past two seasons. Also back is junior Courtney Crain, who was a State qualifier in doubles her freshman season and played primarily singles last season, going 8-13. Also back is senior Krista Hightower, who split time between varsity and JV last season. At the varsity level, she was 3-2 in singles and 1-1 in doubles. Senior Aubin Duff, primarily a JV player last season, is also back.
Junior Kenna Savage is another returning varsity player. She was 2-4 in singles and 11-10 in doubles. Candice Rost played mostly on the JV but was 2-2 in varsity singles matches.
Other juniors are Danielle McDowell and Jasmine Davis. Sophomore Kristian Engle is out for her first year of tennis. The freshmen are Jennifer Harrison, Char Hutchison and Emmah Reeves.
In addition to Buntain and C.Harrison, Barr sees Crain, Savage and J.Harrison on the varsity with the last of the six spots up between Hightower and Rost. He has not yet determined which spots the other four players will fill.
As far as the now-seven team Southeast Kansas League goes, it goes without saying that Independence, even though Parsons knocked the seven-time defending champion from its perch last season, is the favorite again. Barr looks for those to be the top two again with Indy holding an advantage.
Chanute and Pittsburg should be tough as well. Labette County lost several players to graduation and has a new coach. The SEK schools will continue to play Columbus and Iola as they have in the past as those schools' new leagues don't sponsor girls' tennis.
The season begins with Fort Scott hosting a junior varsity tournament Monday at 3 p.m. The varsity season begins Thursday at Parsons.