Tennis season defined by a team that just wouldn’t quit
As the end of 2004 tennis season grew closer, De Soto tennis coach Doug Opdycke discovered a team characteristic valuable in all of sports.
No, he may not have had the most talented or most experienced team. But he still knew something about his team that gave him comfort.
"I knew we weren't quitters," Opdycke said. "Once we reached a certain point in the season, it would have been easy to say, 'Let's lay back and just finish the season.' But we worked harder and harder to get better and better.
"It's pretty easy to work hard to get better when you've had some success. But we really hadn't had a lot of success as a team. That's what was great about this team: They still had a strong desire to be successful."
AlThough the Wildcats went winless at the May 17 regional tournament in Baldwin City, Opdycke said the team's hard work was already paying off.
"Our goal going into the season was to become better players," the coach said. "All of our players are hitting better strokes, and they are making better decisions. In that respect we are a lot better at the end of the season than we were at the beginning of the season."
Although the Wildcats weren't as successful in wins and losses as they would have liked to have been, Opdycke said they did well in one tournament.
The Wildcats played well enough in their own quadrangular against Sumner Academy, Spring Hill and Kansas City Christian to finish in second place as a team. De Soto took first place honors at No. 2 doubles and second place at No. 1 doubles and No. 2 singles.
With no seniors on the team, Opdycke had to rely on his five juniors to provide the leadership for the younger players. He also had two sophomores and 12 freshmen dotting the roster .
One benefit of having such a young team, Opdycke said, was the possibility of having them all back next season. Well, nearly all of them back.
Nico Londono, who came to De Soto from Colombia last fall, is set to return home after helping De Soto at No. 2 singles this season. He also played some at No. 1 singles on occasion.
"I've learned that kids are pretty much the same no matter where they're from," Opdycke said of the experience to coach Londono. "He has a great sense of humor and really seemed to fit in with the guys. He was fun to have on the team."
Spike Delapena finished the year on top of the challenge ladder and hopes to mold that momentum into a successful senior campaign next year.
Opdycke said Delapena had a tendency to hit the ball well and displayed good control.
The Wildcat coach looks for Delapena to move back to singles next season after he started playing doubles about halfway through the 2004 campaign.
Meanwhile, Delapena's doubles partner is expected to continue playing doubles in the seasons to come. Opdycke said Ben Smith's game was perfect for playing doubles.
"He is a tall fellow that covers the court well," Opdycke said. "He also has some decent strokes and likes to play the net, and that's goodin doubles."
A pair of freshmen will remain mainstays on the doubles circuit for the Wildcats during the next three years. Andy Edwards and Dan Hoschouer played well together this year, and Opdycke liked the fact they were such great friends.
Even though Edwards and Hoschouer were successful this season, Opdycke said he didn't think they were ready for No. 1 doubles in their rookie campaigns. But next year could be a different story.
"They've come a long way," he said. "They played well against Baldwin and have become more confident in their ability. If they continue to work hard, they can do well next season."
Opdycke said Josey Payne would probably stay at singles. The coach said Payne must work on his serves and strokes to become the player Opdyke knows he's capable of being.
"He needs to get stronger and pick up the speed of the ball," Opdycke said of Payne's future prospects on the team.. "If he works hard he could be a real plus for us."
Even though another Wildcat tennis season has just wrapped up, Opdycke is already looking forward to the 2005 campaign.
He said he liked the foundation this year's team laid for future Wildcat players but warned the program still wasn't where he wanted to take it.
"It takes a lot of desire to get to the same level as a Baldwin and some of those schools," he said. "We have to practice right now about two to three times a week. If we don't pick up a racket from now until next March we won't get any better."