Blue Springs has been one of the top girls tennis teams in the Eastern Jackson County area for the past two seasons.
Last year, Blue Springs was powered by its top three players, Caitlyn Sporing, Bentley Walters and Allie Brown. However, things will be a little different in 2019.
Sporing, a three-time state medalist, is now on the Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville roster as a college freshman. That leaves a big void to fill for the Wildcats as former assistant Jennifer Kramer is now the head coach after Jody McClain retired last year.
So far it’s been a smooth transition for Kramer, who also was an assistant for the boys team the past two years. She’s focused on the basics so far this summer as her Wildcats lost three seniors to graduation from last year’s squad.
“We have a really young team,” Kramer said. “Our top three players are showing them the ropes. We’re rebuilding.
“I am just trying to fill (McClain’s) shoes. I am kind of taking her lead. We’re working on a little more fitness this year. We’re going over a lot of basics first, so it makes the advanced stuff easier.”
Walters, a senior, will move up to the No. 1 singles spot after being at No. 2 the past three years. She qualified for the state singles tournament as a freshman and hopes to make one more appearance as a senior.
“Now that Caitlyn is gone, hopefully I will be able to win our district, which will give me a better chance to make it (to state),” Walters said.
Brown, a junior who will play at No. 2 singles, put in a lot of offseason work and played in some United States Tennis Association tournaments. She shares the same goal as Walters, wanting to make her first state singles tournament appearance.
“They are very competitive and I love playing in them,” Brown said of the offseason tournaments. “It’s mentally draining to play in so many in a row. I’ve been playing (in the 18-year-old division) as a 16-year-old. I didn’t fare too great, but I hope to get better this year.”
Sophomore Malina McGaw is the other returning varsity player who is working her way up the ranks. She will be the No. 3 singles player.
“My goal is to improve every year, and hopefully by my senior year, I am the No. 1,“ she said. “I have more experience now and I am working on taking easier steps to hit the ball. I was taking too many extra steps.”
Senior Danielle Bond will fill in at the No. 4 spot a year after she tore her ACL and meniscus while playing soccer. She missed all of 2018, but played tennis as a sophomore in 2017. Kramer said Bond has looked good in practice and has the potential to succeed right away.
“It intimidated her at first (to come back from an injury),” Kramer said. “She’s getting stronger and more confident. That’s what we need.”
Jamie Bowman was promoted from the No. 1 junior varsity slot to No. 5 on varsity. She’s received private lessons in the summer and her improvement has shown in practice, Kramer said. Molly Hocker, who is new to the tennis team, is expected to take over the No. 6 slot. Kramer said she has shown some upside.
“She just came out for tennis, she’s a soccer girl,” Kramer said of Hocker. “She jumped in our practice and she kept moving up. She kept on winning challenge matches and she looks really good.”
With some talented newcomers entering the fold, The Wildcats hope to be a more balanced team in 2019. They will be looking to win a third straight team district title, and it may be up to the No. 4, 5 and 6 players to help get them there.
“I think we have a chance to win districts, but it’s going to be a little more difficult,” Walters said. “We have a well-rounded team this year. We have a better chance to win in the lower half of the bracket than we have in previous years.
“In the past, it was just the (top three singles players) who would win. Now we’re hoping to get wins from 4, 5 and 6.”