Bentley Walters’ competitive tennis career is over. She’s fine with that, especially after taking care of some unfinished business.
Walters reached the Class 2 state singles tournament as a freshman at Blue Springs, and after barely missing out her sophomore and junior years, her resolve to make it back grew. It drove her throughout her senior season, which ended not only with a return trip to the Cooper Tennis Complex in Springfield, but a state medal as well. It also ended with Walters being selected The Examiner’s 2019 Girls Tennis Player of the Year.
“It was kind of sad as well going to state because I knew it’d be my last competitive tennis thing,” Walters said. “I’ve decided I’m not going to play in college, but I’m probably going to miss it a lot.”
Walters would have walked away a state qualifier even if she didn’t make it back as a senior, but it wouldn’t have made for a happy ending. Not after falling one match away from going back the next two seasons with losses in sectionals. And certainly not after feeling she could have done better the first time she went.
“It was really motivating because that’s all I wanted was to make it back again,” Walters said. “My freshman year when I went I wasn’t prepared and I wasn’t ready the same way that I was all the other years. I didn’t appreciate it enough my freshman year, so that’s why I wanted it and I wanted to go to state and do better.”
Getting back there required navigating another tough Suburban Big Six schedule, and this time Walters would have to do it as Blue Springs’ No. 1 singles player. Playing No. 1 made her more confident, she said, especially when she started having the same success she enjoyed at No. 2 the year before.
That helped Walters amass a 21-4 singles record, including a 5-1 mark in Big Six play. She won the Class 2 District 14 championship and secured her long-awaited return to state with a 6-1, 6-1 victory over Elise McFee of Park Hill at sectionals.
“I just focused on all my matches and I knew they were all just leading to one thing,” Walters said. “And I had to think that everybody else wants it, too. They’re going to play their best, too, whenever I play them to make it to state.”
Walters’ second state tournament began like her first, with a loss in the first round. But after falling to Abby Gains of St. Louis’ St. Joseph’s Academy 6-1, 6-0, Walters battled her way back through the consolation bracket to the podium. She whipped Geethika Cherukuru of Francis Howell 8-0 in the first consolation round and advanced to the second day with an 8-5 victory over Luch Huang of Springfield Glendale.
After suffering a tough 8-6 loss to Maggie Linn of Columbia Rock Bridge in the consolation semifinals, Walters bounced back in the seventh-place match to beat Ashley Firoved of Troy Buchanan 8-0 and earn all-state honors.
“At first all I wanted to do was get there, but you always want more, so I really wanted to place,” Walters said. “I knew it wasn’t going to be super easy. I had some really good matches in there, both wins and losses, so just being able to be on the podium and get a medal was really special.”
As special as the season was, Walters is now ready to move on. She plans to attend college next year at either Missouri or Iowa State, and maybe play some tennis just for fun.
She can do that after accomplishing her mission.
“I think I played well,” Walters said. “I don’t think I could have played better. I got really what I wanted, which was to go to state and have that experience.”