Nevada Lady Tigers tennis season to open Monday

Friday, August 23, 2013
The 2013 Nevada Lady Tigers tennis team is, front: Elienor Pruitt, Chelsey Jeans, Sarah Harris, Jaiden Cherry, Aly Lunkenheimer, Alexandria Richards and Olivia Doak. Back row: Megan Payne, Maggie Long, Lize Smith, Courtney Smith, Jessica DeCocq, Nikiya Feezell, Sydnie Baker and Kierstin Lanham.

By Eric Wade

Daily Mail Sports Editor

The Lady Tigers tennis team will be the first to get into regular-season action among teams around Nevada High School.

The Lady Tigers and head coach Samantha Short are scheduled to be in action for the first time on Monday, taking on the Lady Bulldogs of Carl Junction High School on Monday. Not only is that the first match of the season for Short's squad, but it will also be the first sporting event hosted by Nevada High School in the 2013-14 school year.

As the excitement grows for the beginning of the season, a number of questions still remain unanswered about Short's squad. The biggest of those questions is simply what the final varsity lineup will look like once things do get started.

Though Short does have one of the largest rosters she has seen in her career, there aren't really any standouts among this year's group. Entering her sixth season as Lady Tigers head coach, Short has battled low numbers throughout her career, but this year's squad has reached 15 players, eliminating at least one significant issue.

"It's kind of interesting," Short said of the difference in numbers this year, as it compares to years past. "I have five freshmen out. I don't know, I just, finally getting some diversity.

"I think the draw for this, though, is that you as an individual can go to state. You don't have rely, necessarily, on a team."

Though the issue of low numbers isn't going to be a factor this year, one issue that has become all too familiar to Short and her staff is still very prevalent. As has been the case for the majority of Short's career, there really aren't any stars on this year's team, making the top spot in the lineup one that could be up for grabs.

"We haven't had a solid No. 1 since Ron Del Rosario's daughter graduated," Short said. "She only lost to, like, two girls. We just haven't had that since her."

Despite not having an obvious top player, however, Short does have a number of returning varsity players who are poised to make significant contributions to this year's squad.

Among those players are Kierstin Lanham, Jessica DeCocq, Lize Smith and Megan Payne. Though Payne is just a sophomore, Short said she could be poised to be among the best on this year's squad.

"She's just a sophomore, but a phenomenal player and always has been from the get-go," Short said.

Smith, Lanham and DeCocq make up the majority of a senior class that Short said is going to provide a solid core of leadership to this year's varsity squad. Joining those three returning seniors is one newcomer in Nikiya Feezell.

"It's pretty good, you know, having four seniors and having that kind of seniority at the varsity level," Short said.

Despite being a first-year player, Short said Feezell could put herself in position to make just as many contributions as the other three members of this year's senior class. With her superior athleticism, Feezell has already secured herself a spot in the varsity lineup that she shouldn't have much trouble keeping.

"If I'd had her for four years, she would definitely be state bound," Short said of Feezell. "She's already No. 5 on the team, so she's pretty solid."

Feezell is one spot ahead of sophomore Maggie Long on the varsity lineup, but her spot is much safer than Long's, Short said.

"That six spot is always like that," Short said. "I mean, if you have a JV player that's just strong enough, they could easily take it over."

Joining Feezell as newcomers to this year's roster are juniors Sarah Harris and Alex Richards. Though they are still having the usual troubles that would be expected from newcomers to any sport, Short said both Harris and Richards have taken well to the sport of tennis.

"They're coming along," Short said. "I think they enjoy it."

Though she did have a number of very kind words to say about her players, the names on her playing roster aren't the only ones she wants to praise. Ron Del Rosario has assisted Short since she took the head coaching position at Nevada High School prior to the 2008 season, but he has become far more than an assistant coach over the course of their five seasons as a coaching team.

"Ron Del Rosario, I don't call him an assistant," Short said. "He's just the other coach and he does a phenomenal job with doubles and with the girls, in general. I have learned so much from him."

Del Rosario's specialty, the doubles teams, are something the Lady Tigers struggled with last year. Short said there will be extra emphasis placed on that particular area this year, hoping to solidify what could already been a very competitive Lady Tigers team.

"We are going to work more with doubles," Short said. "We just could never solidify doubles last year."

Short was free to admit that last year's 5-7 dual match record was far below what she and Del Rosario had hoped for, but hasn't let that enter her mind heading into this year. With the new additions and holdovers from last year's team, Short is confident this year will be a much better one.

"It was not the year that I would like to have had," she said. "But now, we have these solid, top players and we're going to do all right."

The Lady Tigers won't have to wait long to see just how "all right" they will be as a team this year, as they are set to host the Lady Bulldogs of Carl Junction at 4:30 p.m., Monday, on the tennis courts at Nevada High School. That match is set to be one of just six the Lady Tigers will play at home this season.

Though winning is high on the priority list for Short, as it is with many coaches, that isn't all she wants her team to take from the coming season, however.

"I always hope to convey to the girls not only to want to win -- because as a varsity squad, that's always one of the main things -- but to love the sport and to play it for the rest of their lives," she said. "I really want to pass that on to the girls, just the love of the sport."

Short said that love of the sport has already started to show among a number of her players and if it continues, the wins are almost certain to follow.

"We're just going to keep plugging away and keep working and see how the year goes," she said.

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