Five of six regulars from last year's Midland Empire Conference team champions, including top four and state doubles qualifiers, back for Lady Hornets

By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor

Like Chillicothe High School’s 2018 golf and volleyball Lady Hornets, the tennis Lady Hornets have a large, veteran hue to them with the top five players from the 2017 Midland Empire Conference team champion returning – three as juniors.

“We have high hopes for this year,” Amanda Marsh, returning head coach and a former Lady Hornets netter herself, admits. “… We’re going for a district title this year.

“We’re hoping we can do that. We have a lot of good players that practiced over the summer and are a lot of fun to be around, so we’re looking forward to this season.”

The cast of holdovers is led by seniors Gracy Reeter, the No. 1 singles player each of the past two years, and Hannah Cypert, who went to state in doubles with now-junior Hunter Keithley last fall.

In addition to Keithley, Macy Cavanah – last year’s top winner in singles with 15, unofficially, mostly at No. 4 – and Hannah Zimmerman also are back from the CHS team which went 16-4 in dual matches in ’17, including an unbeaten, 6-matches run through the MEC in which the Lady Hornets lost only three of 54 sets.

The coach says those five returnees don’t seem satisfied with simply falling back into the same singles lineup order in which they played last year when Cypert, Keithley, and Cavanah followed G. Reeter in order and Zimmerman held down the No. 6 spot.

“It has already been very stressful, watching them vie for positions,” Marsh relates as her team gets set for its scheduled opener at home against Kirksville this coming Monday at 4 p.m. “I don’t know who my No. 1 is going to be. I’ve got four top-spot contenders.

“That’s an amazing feeling for a tennis coach, because that means I have four girls that could play other teams’ No. 1 (and do respectably). So, we’re deep and that’s awesome.”

Even with the refined character of this year’s Chillicothe team, its task in defending its league title will be more difficult than it would be most years. That is because of a new member of the conference.

Smithville, which didn’t even have a tennis program, departed after last school year, replaced by long-time state tennis stalwart St. Pius X of Kansas City.

In perhaps fortuitous scheduling, the CHS-SPX conference dual is slated to be played on Chillicothe’s Daryl Danner Memorial Park courts Monday, Sept. 10. That’s a match local tennis afficionadoes and CHS fans might want to “circle on their calendars” to attend.

While St. Pius X is a bona fide state power of long-standing, Chillicothe’s got tennis “chops” of its own, both currently and historically and the Lady Hornets should enter that action with confidence.

Last year, the only intersection between players from the two programs came in non-team state-tournament-qualifying sectional play when CHS’ district-champion top doubles tandem of Cypert and Keithley took on a Lady Warriors duo. When the last swing of the racquets had been completed, it was the Chillicothe duo, which amassed a 23-4 overall record, which not only had prevailed, but had done so decisively by a straight-sets count of 6-4, 6-1.

Not only did the SPX players lose that match, but its own district-champions pair was stunned in straight sets by a Trenton tandem which Cypert and Keithley dramatically had edged in the district finals and a St. Pius X singles player lost her sectional match in straight sets, as well.

It’s not known how many, if any, of those Lady Warriors sectional qualifiers were underclassmen a year ago, but at least some figure to have been, so the Kansas City Catholic school should bring a very capable group to town to battle the Lady Hornets.

As for being district team champions, a distinction many Lady Hornets net squads have earned over the past quarter-century, that will not come readily either since the Missouri State High School Activities Association last week disclosed it was shifting CHS east and south for its district play.

That will put the Lady Hornets in against, among others, another long-time standout public-school program – Marshall.

The Lady Owls advanced to the state team quarterfinals last year where, like St. Pius X in the sectional round, they also were victimized 5-0 by eventual team champion Kansas City: Pembroke Hill.

Chillicothe and Marshall traditionally have hooked up for a regular-season match and that will continue this year, late in the campaign on Sept. 24. It will be played at Marshall.

Last year, MHS and a young, largely-inexperienced CHS squad squared off very early in the season – a year from tomorrow, in fact – and the veteran Lady Owls unit cruised to an 8-1 win in Chillicothe.

Coach Marsh confirms with satisfaction that her returning lineup regulars did not spend the past nine months assuming that they’d be better this season. Neither did younger returnees who didn’t get into varsity play last year nor some of the incoming freshmen on this season’s 16-players squad.

“They’ve all picked up a tennis racket (during the spring and summer),” the coach reveals, “so I’m really pleased.”

She reports 11 of the 16 participated in a local tennis instruction camp she arranged for Drury University’s coach to put on. In addition, the Lady Hornets coach made court time and equipment available each Tuesday evening through most of the summer and many of the less-accomplished players availed themselves of those opportunities to “up” their games.

While there is well-seasoned talent available to presumably stock most of the varsity lineup this fall, Marsh notes she has a good group of younger players showing signs of more than adequately filling the one vacancy, if not elbowing aside one of the returnees.

That group includes sophomores Delaney May, Allison Ishmael, and Megan Sisson and freshmen Lucy Reeter and Leah Lourenco, both of whom have been playing tennis for several years, the coach says.

“Eventually, they’re going to be on varsity and they’re going to make a great team, as well,” she predicts.

“I don’t know where they’ll fall in the lineup (this fall). Those (No.) 5, 6, 7, and 8 spots – some of those names are going to be up there.

“We’ve got some young talent, too.”