2019 season preview: Multiple returnees give new coach state doubles qualifier, league singles runnerup to deploy

(Published in print edition Sept. 3, 2019)

CHILLICOTHE, Mo. — With a 2-times state-tournament doubles qualifier and the Midland Empire Conference Championships singles runnerup among three returning varsity starters from last year’s MEC team champs, Bob Long, new Chillicothe High School tennis Lady Hornets head coach, has a significant and accomplished core to build the 2019 CHS team around.

Even with one would-be returnee opting, for health reasons, opting to sit out her would-be sophomore season with the team, the Lady Hornets again should be a strong factor in this year’s conference title race and their Class 1 individual and team district tournaments.
“The team will try to repeat as conference champs with a strong (Kansas City:) St Pius X team in the way,” Long projects. “The team will compete for the team district title and strive to send as many as possible to individual state competition.”
Already having been to state twice in doubles has been senior Hunter Keithley, who – with the graduation last May of college signee Gracy Reeter – projects to play No. 1 singles for the first time this fall and return as part of the No. 1 doubles tandem.
Unofficially, Keithley – a fourth-year varsity player – won eight of 11 singles sets in 2018 while pairing with now-graduated Hannah Cypert to capture 25 of 30 doubles sets and the MEC Championships crown. For a second-straight year, that duo qualified for the state tournament to cap their seasons.
Long has not shared who he will deploy with Keithley in doubles this fall, but, given that the other two returning members of last year’s league champions – seniors Macy Cavanah and Hannah Zimmerman – played doubles together (10-2 record) exclusively last year, it won’t be a surprise if the new coach keeps that pairing intact and slots Keithley with a new partner.
Cavanah’s forte in the past has been singles play, where she won a team-leading 20 sets with only five losses last year. Along the way, she produced a strong and slightly-surprising run during the MEC Championships that earned her a second-place finish.
She might be able to push Keithley for the No. 1 singles spot in the CHS lineup after playing No. 4 position a year ago, but, either way, will give Chillicothe a strong anchor at the top of its lineup.
Zimmerman performed well as almost-exclusively the No. 5 singles player on the 2018 team, but, with her two years of full-time varsity experience, rises to No. 3 after posting a 15-6 singles ledger as a junior.
The returning trio “are ready to lead the team,” Long proclaims.
Last year’s CHS team – coached by former Lady Hornet Amanda Marsh, who has stepped down from coaching this year to focus on parenting of her family’s grade-school-age children, the C-T has been told – also included freshman Lucy Reeter, a very nimble player who had success in both No. 6 singles and in doubles with her older sister. She, however, has a physical issue, Long reports, which complicates her ability to play tennis and has prompted her to pass on the sport this fall. The problem is not expected to impact her availability for this winter’s basketball season, where – after playing extensively as a freshman – she’s expected to be a top candidate to be the starting point guard.
In addition, in 2018, CHS used only two other players besides its top six in varsity-level competitions and one of those is not available after suffering an injury last spring.
The lone returnee with any varsity experience – having played a bit both in 2017 and ’18 – is junior Delaney May. Last fall, she got into doubles action with Allison Ishmael, winning four of seven sets they had.
Given her veteran status, May, who has earned the initial No. 4 singles spot in season-starting lineup, could get a look as doubles partner for Keithley.
Set to make their varsity debuts in today’s scheduled season-starting, 4 p.m. home match against conference foe Cameron at the Daryl Danner Memorial Park courts are junior Megan Sisson at No. 5 singles and sophomore Leah Laurenco at No. 6. Whether they’ll combine for the No. 3 doubles or Long goes another route or utilizes one or more of his remaining roster members for the bottom doubles spot was not disclosed.
Others among the 16 players on the new coach’s first girls’ net squad – Long has guided the CHS boys’ program for about five years – who he says have caught his eye during preseason practices include freshman Cami Carpenter, junior Hannah Dominique, and sophomores Emma Crowe, Olivia Anderson, and Audrey Snider. The ninth grader looks to be the top reserve for the varsity as the season begins.
A year ago, with long-time tennis power St. Pius X entering the MEC upon Smithville’s departure, it was thought Chillicothe might have to take a back seat to the private big-city school, but the veteran Lady Hornets had other thoughts.
Hosting the Lady Warriors in a midseason dual match got a tight No. 3 win from the Cavanah/Zimmerman combo to take two of the three doubles sets, then, decisively, the Nos. 3-6 singles to unexpectedly crush SPX 7-2 en route to a perfect 7-0 mark in conference duals.
With the Kansas Citians having balanced the scales a bit with a 4-1 victory in an abbreviated-format match in the St. Joseph: Benton Invitational tournament later in the season, the anticipation is St. Pius X will be a threat to dethrone the Lady Hornets this year. The teams’ dual match is slated the SPX courts on Sept. 16, giving both sides a chance to polish up some of their less-experienced players and new doubles tandems.
Come the regular season’s end around the first of October, Chillicothe’s girls find themselves in a new-look district grouping minus regional power Marshall, which blanked Chillicothe in both regular-season and district-title matches last fall.
CHS is assigned to Class 1 District 15 with neighbors Trenton and Carrollton, as well as Lexington, Richmond, and Excelsior Springs.
Of those teams, the Lady Hornets dominated Trenton twice and Lexington once last year and won all five sets it had against Excelsior Springs players during an ESHS-hosted tournament CHS won in mid-September.
Given that – and with Richmond having generally fared poorly in its action in that Excelsior Springs tourney, this year’s Lady Hornets look to have strong prospects of adding to the program’s long list of district team championships.