It’s not often that a high school coach returns his entire varsity lineup from the previous season, but that’s both the delight and the dilemma for Hillsboro tennis coach Bob Woelk.
“The good news is I have five returning seniors, and they have been with me for four years now,” Woelk said. “The bad news is there are fairly high expectations when you have girls who have been through a system. So it’s kind of a moment of truth.”
The five seniors are Becky Faber, Elise Heyen, Emma Heyen, Aubrey Meier and Hayley Pankratz. Courtney Weber, a junior, is the sixth varsity returner.
“What I like about this group of girls is that they like each other and they’re a fun-loving group,” Woelk said. “But what I’ve seen this year is that they are taking this seriously. Of course, it’s their last opportunity as high school players.”
In addition to experience in the program, the six girls share similar skills on the court.
“That’s the dilemma I face, how to match up personnel,” Woelk said. “If we’re going to make a run at getting as many girls as possible into the state tournament, we’re going to have to develop some consistency.”
Inconsistency is one of the factors that kept his junior-laden squad from experiencing a lot of success in tournament play in 2009. The team placed fifth in the league tournament and were shut out from the state tournament during regional play on their home courts.
In their defense, the regional field was easily the toughest in Class 3A with the likes of Wichita Collegiate, Hesston, Wichita Independent, Ellsworth and Sacred Heart.
“I can’t imagine a tougher regional than we had last year,” Woelk said. “Even at that, the ultimate goal is to place as many people as possible for state. Then we’ll go from there.”
To accomplish that, Woelk said he intends to keep his lineup fairly consistent through the season.
“With this group of girls, we’ve been mixing it up for three years with limited success,” he said. “One of my goals is to try to keep my doubles teams together for the bulk of the season. If they’re going to be a contender, they have to play together.”
As his team prepared for its tournament debut Tuesday (Aug. 31) at the Hillsboro Invitational, Woelk finally settled on a starting lineup. Faber, who played singles most of last season, will team with Emma Heyen at No. 1 doubles; Weber and Elise Heyen will play No. 2 doubles; Pankratz will be competing at No. 1 singles and Meier at No. 2 singles.
Woelk said his athletes have already shown improvement in preseason practices.
“We’re way ahead of where we were last season,” he said. “We’ve been able to pass by some of the fundamental things and gone to strategies and some of the more difficult shots. We’ll see whether that pays off.”
Consistent serving has been the team’s weakness during preseason.
“We’ve been working with fine-tuning some things—I guess the girls would say we’re overhauling some things,” he said. “We’re going to try and get that fixed in the next few days.”
In addition to his six varsity players, Woelk has six underclassmen on the team: returning sophomores Peyton Loewen, Erin Winter, Rachel Schneider and Katie Claassen, and freshmen Abby Shope and Lydia Nash.
“I like the intelligence of my girls,” he said, “and I like the improved skill level. Up and down, the things we’re doing already this year we couldn’t pull off at practice last year.”
Woelk said he expected to get a good idea how much his team has improved at the Hillsboro Invitational, which included teams from Collegiate, Hesston and Pratt.
While Collegiate is not part of the new Central Kansas League, Hesston and Pratt are. He said it’s hard to predict how HHS will stack up in the new mix of schools, and he won’t know who they will face in regionals until later in the season.
“Do we have a chance? Yes, if things come together,” Woelk said.
The Trojans’ next tournament will be Sept. 2 at Sterling. Hillsboro will host a second home tournament Sept. 23. The first CKL league tournament will be Oct. 2 at Lindsborg.