Friday, August 11, 2017

SPORTS STORY >> Fresh faces for Cabot tennis

Leader sports editor

The Cabot tennis team will feature a lot of new players after last year’s squad lost 10 seniors, including five boys and five girls. That doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty of potential and some high expectations for this year’s young squad.

“We have a lot of sophomores,” said Cabot head coach Mary Emily Nash. “We only have three total seniors, and only one boy senior. I still think our girls’ team, especially, could be conference contenders if we get everything firing in October.”

The Lady Panthers’ top girls’ singles player is sophomore Kelsey David. She didn’t play varsity tennis as a freshman, but Nash thinks she has a lot of upside potential.

“Kelsey has probably the best footwork that we have ever coached,” Nash said. “She moves to the ball really well. She’s what we call a grinder. She’s going to get the ball back in play and a lot of times that wears her opponent down. She has a soccer background and she’s in really good shape. Her style of play can get the other player exhausted and she’s still doing strong.”

Heading up the Lady Panthers’ doubles will be the team of Ryane Thurman and Maggie Gibson. The duo had the team’s best run in last weekend’s season-opening tournament at Searcy. They made it to the semifinals before losing in a tiebreaker to the host team that eventually won the tournament final.

“We’ll get a rematch in a couple of weeks,” Nash said. “Hopefully we can come back after what we learned there and get a win next time.”

Neither player played varsity last year, but each person’s style of play compliments the other. Thurman is the volleyer while Gibson grinds away on the baseline.

“Ryane is so aggressive at the net, they can shorten and win points earlier because they’re not afraid to volley,” Nash said. “Maggie is a great baseline player.

“They actually played doubles together last year, too. They were one match away from playing varsity. We let them play doubles so they could mesh as a team. This being Ryane’s senior year, we want her to have a great year. They get along really well, too. They laugh together and have fun on the court.”

Emily Belin is the No. 2 singles player, who also plays for the Lady Panther basketball team. Kaitlyn Follett and Caroline Franklin make up the No. 2 girls’ doubles team.

All three are tough competitors.

“What I really like about the girls is they’ve all played other sports,” Nash said. “They know what it means to be a competitor, and to be mentally tough on the court. That will give us some of that leverage we’re missing from being a little more inexperienced than a team with a bunch of seniors. Because we’re going to be playing a lot of teams with more experience, these girls know how important it is to close it out when you have that opportunity.”

On the boy’s side, Nathan Ellis is the No. 1 boys’ singles player, replacing older brother Clayton, who was the team’s No. 1 the last couple of years. Jake Goodman is the only senior on the boys’ team, and he is the No. 2 singles player.

The other four that round out the top six include sophomore Ethan Usery, sophomore Colyn Owen and freshman Gracen Newton.

“With the boys, it’s just a matter of finding the right combinations and fitting the right people together,” Nash said. “They need some match experience but they have potential. For a couple of them, last weekend was their first time to play a real match. Simulating that kind of intensity is difficult to do in a practice. So we’re going to play lots of matches to get them ready.

“It’s kind of a catch 22. It’s great that we’re young because we expect a lot of growth and improvement over the season. But playing against seniors and more experienced people, we have to get through that early.”

Cabot’s next match will be its home opener on Aug. 17 against Vilonia. After that it will be a busy rest of August. The team will host Mountain Home on Aug. 21, Hot Springs Lakeside on Aug. 22 and that anticipated rematch with Searcy on Aug. 24. The team then gets a week off before hosting a junior varsity match against Beebe on Aug. 31.