Hillsboro tennis coach Bob Woelk believes his team has the skills necessary to compete this season. The X factor will be whether his relatively inexperienced squad can develop the confidence on the court to capitalize on those skills.
Woelk?s situation this fall is dramatically different from last season, when he had five seniors heading the roster. Two of them, Becky Faber and Emma Heyen, qualified for state in doubles, while Courtney Weber and Elise Heyen came within one match of doing the same.
Weber is the only returning letter-winner and the lone senior on this fall?s seven-person squad.
?She will be back to be the senior anchor for the team,? Woelk said. ?She?s doing a real good job with leadership, which I would expect from her.?
On the court, Woelk is looking for Weber to make another run at a state berth, possibly in singles this time.
?I?m telling Courtney we?re taking her to state in one form or another,? Woelk said. ?I think she?s pretty hungry to go to state, which would be fun to do?whether it?s singles or doubles.?
Which way she goes may depend on whether a strong doubles partner emerges during the season. Potential candidates are three juniors who return this fall with limited varsity experience: Erin Winter, Peyton Loewen and Katie Claassen.
?I would say Erin is probably the most consistent player of the juniors,? Woelk said. ?She?s become a pretty strong hitter. She just needs to gain confidence.
?Peyton is a very smart player and has some real good fundamentals. Katie Claassen is probably the hardest server we have. It?s a matter of getting that down to accuracy.
?They all bring something to the table.?
In addition to the juniors, Woelk is excited about the potential of freshman Allison Weber, who brings a family connection to the team as a sister to Court?ney.
?She is coming along well,? Woelk said. ?She?s a very strong hitter, which I think is somewhat an advantage. With her, we just need to get a strong serve and put the pieces together?and she needs experience. There?s no substitute for that. But I think by the end of the season she will be a major factor.?
Also bringing a family connection with the program is Claire Heyen, freshman sister of Elise and Emma.
?She shows quite a bit of promise as well,? Woelk said. ?All of the girls I have out there are going to be contributors.?
Bailey Kaufman, a junior, joined the tennis team this fall as a first-time player.
Just where in the lineup the girls make their contribution to the team will evolve as the season progresses.
?In theory, we?re grooming Courtney to be a singles player,? Woelk said. ?She played doubles virtually all of last year. But it?s one of those years where we?re going to have to experiment a little bit because I?m not sure how people are going to fit into the big picture.?
The key to team success will be the extent to which the three juniors have developed from a year ago, according to Woelk.
?If the girls?especially the juniors?step up, if the learning curve is where it should be, my hope is that by the end of the season we?ll be competitive,? he said. ?They have improved quite a bit since last year. They just lack varsity experience and confidence.
?All the way through?including Courtney?it?s really a confidence issue. I think the ability is there, and they all make some really, really good shots.?
Based on what fellow coaches were saying at the recent league meeting, Woelk believes the overall strength of the Central Kansas League may be down a bit in its second year. But perennial powers Hesston and Smoky Valley will still be strong.
?We have a very strong league, really,? he said. ?Every?thing looks to be down a little bit except the usual powerhouses.?
Hillsboro will jump right into its season, hosting the first of its two home tournaments Tuesday, Aug. 30, at the Sports Complex.
?I?m not expecting them to set the world on fire,? he said of his players. ?The younger ones are going to have to ease into it.?
Eight varsity tournaments are on the season schedule at this point. Hillsboro?s second varsity home meet is scheduled for Sept. 22. The league tournament is set for Oct. 1 with the location to be named later.
In a similar vein, the site of the regional tournament Oct. 7-8 will be named later. Wherever it?s played, Woelk expects it be the toughest regional in the state once again with state powers Wichita Collegiate, Wichita Independent, Hutchinson Trinity and Con?way Springs likely in the mix.
?We just never catch a break when it comes to regionals,? Woelk said.
This year?s Class 3-2-1A state tournament will be in Dodge City.