Defending runners-up looking to rebuild
Finishing second in the state and losing four of a team's top-seven players may be a reason for concern for some high school tennis coaches.
Not so with De Soto Wildcats' tennis coach Michael Sullivan, who recognizes the dip in returning players as part of the process for any high school program, even one flying high like his. Sullivan was the 2007 recipient of the all classes girls coach of the year award, presented to him Aug. 7 by the Kansas State High School Athletic Association.
"Programs go through that where you might have one or two, even three really good years in a row, and if you lose a big class you kind of rebuild a little and they build it back to where it was," he said. "We lost a lot of really good kids, and the hope is that these new kids, as they gain experience they can start filling those shoes either this year or in the future."
Gone are the likes of Rebekah Gulley, Hannah Konetzni, Brittny Smith and Brianna Armstrong, among others.
But returning, and sure to be the cornerstone of the team, is one half of the doubles team that finished second in the state in 2007, senior Hana Lindbloom. Lindbloom and Rebekah Gulley - sister of junior Suzie Gulley - went 34-4 a year ago.
The question, for both Suzie Gulley and Lindbloom, becomes what to play, singles or doubles?
In doubles, Suzie Gulley - then a freshman - and Konetzni went 22-9 in 2006 and qualified for state. Last year Gulley had a solid year playing a mixture of singles and doubles and missed qualifying for state in singles by one match.
"Suzie is a really good player and she gets better each year," Sullivan said.
So the option, it seems for Sullivan, is to form a doubles group with Lindbloom and Gulley, or let them play singles so he could possibly have more entries qualify for state.
"During the regular season, we may have her and Suzie play a little bit of both. We've talked about it some, and I'm definitely going to play them in some doubles but I'm going to try them in singles, too," Sullivan said. "The ultimate decision is obviously when I get to the end of the season, do I put them in doubles or put them in singles?
"I'm not leaning one way or the other right now, but I'm committed to kind of experiment with both of them this year."
The third returning varsity player is senior Kara Doherty, who played predominantly doubles last year and amassed a 10-11 record, and also registered a 4-2 mark in singles play.
"She played a lot of doubles last year," Sullivan said. "I think she really wants the chance to play some singles, so she'll get some experience there as well."
After that, things become less certain.
Emily Bilger played in one varsity tournament last year, but the next group of girls after Lindbloom, Gulley and Doherty are all in the mix for varsity roster spots.
"Right now, there's such a large group of girls who are pretty close that it's pretty hard to say who that next group of girls is. It could rotate throughout the year," Sullivan said. "Because we've got some new girls who are showing some promise just in a couple of days and where those girls are going to be in four weeks compared to next week could be completely different.
"I have a feeling our lineups are going to switch around a lot."
That rotation could begin to take form as early as 3 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 28. The Wildcats travel to Topeka Hayden. The event has originally been scheduled for a quad, with De Soto, Topeka Hayden, Gardner Edgerton and Hiawatha, although Sullivan said the event sometimes ends up being a triangular with Hiawatha being the team in question. It's a relatively fast start to the season in comparison to other fall sports.
"It is very fast that we're playing that, and I think that (the size) helps," Sullivan said. "I'd hate to have a super huge tournament after a week of practice because sometimes you don't know exactly where you're at. It's probably a good one to get started with."