William Chrisman High School tennis coach Jason Grubb remembers the first time he met Nicole Eppert – like the meeting took place yesterday.
“She was a shy freshman, and she was playing with a racket she borrowed from her grandma,” Grubb said of the all-time Bears victory leader. “She was the new kid on the block, but she was feisty and just had that spark you look for in a player.
“I had a feeling she was going to be special, and I guess I was right.”
Last week, Eppert claimed singles and doubles wins against Fort Osage to earn her 93rd career win, to bypass her friend and former teammate Allie Cook, who graduated last year.
And her grandmother, Nancy Eppert, was there to watch.
“She has her old racket back,” Nicole Eppert said, chuckling. “I thanked her for loaning it to me. I am glad that I was able to win so many games with my grandma’s racket.”
Heading into the Class 2 District 14 singles and doubles tournament Friday, she has 94 career wins, and Grubb believes more are on the way.
“We hope she gets some more at district Friday over at Lee’s Summit North,” Grubb said. “I teach over at the old Ott Elementary building, which is now part of Chrisman High School and it says 1905 on a wall, so Chrisman is old.
“And you figure, it’s pretty special for a kid who started as a freshman to own the career wins record, because a lot of girls have played tennis at William Chrisman High School.”
The journey to being the No. 1 all-time wins leader at Chrisman is an interesting one.
“I went to one of Grubb’s tennis camps before my freshman year and I kind of fell in love with the sport and I really liked him,” Eppert said.
There was just one, small problem.
“I didn’t own my own racket,” Eppert said, chuckling. “But my grandma had this old, heavy plastic Wilson racket, and you know what? I used it the first three years I played at Chrisman.”
And when she switched to a sleeker Babolat racket her senior year, she had to find one that was a bit heavier than most players would use.
“My grandma’s racket was heavy, but I got used to it, and really liked it,” Eppert said. “When I bought the new racket for my senior year, I didn’t want something light because I wasn’t used to that. So I found a heavier racket and had a pretty good year with it.”
Eppert jumped from junior varsity to varsity her freshman year, coming away with five singles wins and eight doubles victories.
“I was still learning how to play the game, but I loved it so much,” Eppert said. “And Grubb is the best coach ever. He made us all feel like a family, and that was a great feeling for a freshman.”
She picked up 10 singles and 20 doubles wins as a sophomore, setting the stage for future success.
“I was able to watch my opponents and other girls and see what they were doing and I began to copy them, and work on my game, and that made my game better,” Eppert said.
She really found her stride as a junior, winning 12 singles and 10 doubles matches. This year she has won 11 singles and 18 doubles matches.
“I still feel like I have so much to learn, but I kept moving up each year from No. 6 to No. 4 singles and I’ve been No. 2 and have been playing some really good players and have had some success, which is important to me, because that helps our team,” Eppert said.
“I just love this team and don’t want the season to come to an end.”
When asked about being the all-time wins leader at a school that is more than a century old, Eppert paused for a moment.
“That’s a deep question, and I have to process it,” she said. “I’ve had a lot of cool doubles partners who have helped me get a lot of those wins, and it is special – very special – to hold the record. Yeah, it’s special. And I’ve had a lot of fun.”