ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
A bounce here or there and the Tabor College women could have owned a part of the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference tennis championship last season.
“We finished third last year but lost to Bethel, the conference champion, 5-4 in a home match,” coach Lonnie Isaac said. “We win one more match and we’re tri-champs-that’s how close we were. I think our confidence in the women’s program is the highest it’s been since I’ve been here.”
Who could blame him? The Bluejays return their top four players. Heading the list is perhaps the most talented women’s player in program history in Laurel Delamater.
Delamater was the KCAC Freshman-of-the-Year last season and a unanimous pick for the All-KCAC squad. She competed at the International Tennis Association in Kansas City, defeating the fourth seed from William Jewell.
“She’s feeling very good about this season and has a chance to be a dominant No. 1 singles player in this conference,” Isaac said. “She’s the first player to take a set from (three-time KCAC MVP) Brodhagen from Bethel in three years.”
Danni Brucks returns as a two-time All-KCAC pick.
“Danni will be a co-captain along with Laurel and be our No. 2 or 3 singles, and team with (Jennifer) Proffitt at No. 2 doubles,” Isaac said. “Danni is ready to have a breakout year after having a great fall for us.”
Ashley Helmley is back after earning second-team All-KCAC accolades last year.
“Ashley has shown gradual improvement for the past two years,” Isaac said. “She’s also ready for a breakout season.”
Tabor’s fourth returning player is Jennifer Proffitt, a second-team All-KCAC pick last year.
“Jennifer is consistent,” Isaac said. “She’s the mother of three children and still finds ways to get it done on the court. That’s a great attribute.”
New to the team this spring will be Hutchinson Community College transfer Erica Scofield, who will compete for No. 5 or 6 singles and No. 3 doubles.
“She’s a good solid player from the baseline and she’s a hard worker,” Isaac said. “But she’s been battling illness, as have several of our women.”
Erin Wiebe, a Hillsboro High School product, joins the Bluejays after a Trojan career that found Wiebe in state competition on three occasions.
“She should figure into our lineup,” Isaac said. “She played really competitively against some of our top players, so I’ve been pleased with her development.”
Isaac said the depth his team has will allow Tabor to employ full- court pressure on its opponent. That task will be made easier when Bluejay basketball players Erica Hemmert and Stacie Herman are added to the mix after completing the post-season.
“Erica was a three-time state qualifier in high school and was a very talented player in high school,” Isaac said. “She’s going to bring leadership and she’ll be a great competitor who will contribute in both singles and doubles.
“Herman, quite honestly, is a real wild card,” Isaac said. “I’ve only seen her hit a couple of balls, but she played at Derby High School and said she wants to try, so we’re going to try it.
“Their basketball conditioning will help them because of the side-to-side movement and that should translate onto the tennis courts.”
This is the first year the women’s team has competed in spring after normally playing in fall.
“This will help our women because they’ll get to hit some with the men,” Isaac said. “Plus, we’ll have the support of traveling together, so now we look at it as one big team. We’re not separate.”
Coming so close to a conference title last year provided valuable lessons for this year, Isaac said.
“They learned what it takes to win a title mentally and that we have the skills to win the KCAC and compete for regionals,” he said. “Talent-wise, we’re often better than our opponent, but we’ve lost matches because the other team has been the mentally toughest team.
“We realize we have to go out and have fun, but take care of business and our emotions.”
Who will win the KCAC is a question with myriad answers among conference coaches.
“Quite honestly, four or five teams have a chance to win the title and we’re one of them,” Isaac said. “Whoever wins this year will have to win some 5-4 or 6-3 matches.”
Isaac said Bethel, Bethany and Southwestern will join Tabor as legitimate title contenders.
“Southwestern is picked ahead of us in regionals, but they have us predicted to finish second in the region,” Isaac said. “I’m not real comfortable having that bulls-eye on our back. We still have to prove it on the court.”