When Jason Grubb took over the William Chrisman High School girls tennis program six years ago he wanted to build something special – a program that would stand tall in representing the Bears on the courts and in the community.
The thought of winning a conference championship never really crossed his mind, until the Bears stunned the league by going undefeated in the Suburban Middle Seven Conference, finishing with a 5-0 mark and 12-4 overall record.
He and assistant coach Jeanne Smith (whose junior varsity team went 12-1) have fine-tuned and developed a new culture at Chrisman with soccer players, swimmers, volleyball players, cross country runners and even a drum major.
“Coach Grubb is the ultimate recruiter, and one of the most positive individuals I have ever met,” Chrisman activities director Greg McGhee said.
“He’s tireless in his search for kids to play tennis – from our hallways to the soccer field. If he thinks a girl can play tennis and help his team, he is going to recruit her. And it’s great his teams have had so much success.”
Grubb’s enthusiasm is infectious, and the Bears’ success is no surprise to anyone at Chrisman.
“We started with girls who came in from other sports,” Grubb said before a Wednesday afternoon practice session at Santa Fe Trail Park that featured a record number 30 players. “And yes, now we have tennis players.”
His No. 1 singles player, senior Tori Gant, teamed with Lee’s Summit West’s Olivia Berens to win the Summer Slam (a series of tournaments at Eastern Jackson County high schools) doubles title.
“That was huge for the program and huge for Tori,” Grubb said. “She’s really making a name for herself, and that just helps our program get more recognition. I sit here and look at all our girls practicing and think how far our program has come in such a quick time.
“It seems like yesterday when we started. And Coach Smith and I have had so much fun working with the girls, watching them develop and now, watching them win.”
And for the first time in team history, the defending champs will enter this season with a target on their backs.
“Yeah, I guess you could say we’ll be the hunted instead of the hunters, and I think our girls will respond to that challenge,” Grubb said.
Gant certainly believes she and her teammates are ready to defend their first conference title.
“We’re going to get every team’s best game, we’re going to have a target on our backs and we’re excited about that,” Gant said. “So many of us played a lot of tennis this summer.
“I’m proud of what Olivia and I accomplished in winning the Summer Slam doubles title and I’m super excited to see what we do this year on our (Chrisman) team.”
Gant and No. 2 singles player Nicole Eppert are the lone seniors this season. They are joined by junior Kia Ashurst, as they were all part of last year’s varsity squad.
Making the jump from junior varsity to varsity this year are juniors Emma Place, Hunter Taylor and Laurie Douglas.
“Tori was our No. 1 singles player last year and we’re looking forward to see what she does this year at No. 1 as a senior,” said Grubb, whose team opens its season at 3 p.m. Friday with a match at Kearney. “No. 2 and 3 will be between Nicole and Kiara all season.
“Kiara jumps up from No. 6 singles last year. Emma was No. 6 or 7 last year and Hunter was No. 10, so they are making big jumps and Laurie is making the jump from JV and we’re looking for big things from her and all our girls.”
When Grubb was named the head tennis coach six years ago, he had no master plan. He just wanted to build a team of grinders, young ladies who would enjoy success one day because of their work ethic and love of tennis.
“And we have so many exciting young players,” Grubb said. “A lot of talented freshmen and sophomores – I can’t wait to see what we do this year, and I think 2020 and 2021 could be successful years down the road.
“I know that we’re ready to play and I can’t wait!”