By Angie Brushwood (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Willard, MO – The Willard Lady Tigers celebrated the district’s new tennis program with a ribbon cutting ceremony on Wednesday at their brand new six-court facility. A tennis program has been a dream for many years, especially for Willard school board member Julie Germann.
Germann has been pushing for a tennis program for 18 years. She credited new members of administration who had witnessed the benefits of a tennis program in other schools.
“Dr. Teeter, assistant superintendent Dr. Derrick Hutsell, and activities director Cathy Shoup, our athletic activities director, they all had experience in districts that had a tennis program,” said Germann. “They knew what it could bring to the kids and the community. The park board was excited to think about the opportunity to start some development programs. It was the perfect storm.”
Coaching the 17-member team will be Emily Nagle, who assistant coached tennis at Logan-Rogersville for six years but has been away from the sport for five years.
“I told the girls a while back that I forgot how much I loved tennis until I came out for this team,” said Nagle. “The support has been amazing. I’ve had so many people coming out of nowhere that I haven’t even met before that have been excited for us, that are coming out to watch the girls. I really appreciate the opportunity for the girls to have this.”
The Lady Tigers start with a team that is entirely new to the sport of tennis, but not new to the dedication that athletics requires.
CLICK HERE FOR PHOTOS OF THE MATCH
“They are all brand new to tennis,” said Nagle. “So we have a very inexperienced team. But they’re having a blast. We have 17 girls and only two seniors, so we’ve got some room to build with a lot of them. They’ll be back next year, and they’re excited about it.”
Nagle played tennis on the boys team at her high school in St. Charles because there was no girls team, a privilege opened to her by Title IX. Germann rode on the Title IX wave as well, playing tennis at Northwestern Missouri State following the late ‘70s advance of women’s tennis nationwide.
Cody Eckerson is slated to coach the Willard Tigers boys’ team in the spring.
In just his second year as the Willard superintendent, Dr. Matthew Teeter is eager to make a mark on the community.
“To have the ribbon cutting today is an incredible, somewhat surreal experience after it’s been in the process,” said Teeter. “Many in this community have wanted tennis for a long, long time. I am excited that we have that chance to give that opportunity to students to play and provide a life sport.”
Teeter looks forward to the future of the program and its impact on Willard.
“Frankly the other thing we use this for is the opportunity for our community to engage,” said Teeter. “That’s going to take a little time, as you can see, because we’re still fixing some things around the court. We’re looking forward to giving back to this awesome community that’s given so much to our schools.”
The individual rewards of the new program are expressed widely by the 17 members of the team. Senior captain Hannah Hampton made the switch to tennis from volleyball and soccer.
“I’ve always played volleyball and got involved in soccer. It was nerve wracking going to tennis tryouts,” said Hampton. “I’ve never played sports with these girls. Building relationships is kind of hard, but I was really excited to meet new friends. I know everybody else feels the same. We all were really shy and now we’re comfortable with each other and that’s awesome. All of us got out of our comfort zone and the new program means a lot to the school, and it’s an awesome experience. I’m really sad it’s my only year to play.”
Junior captain Sarah Kiesewetter stated the program’s impact on her personally.
“It’s honestly been life changing,” said Kiesewetter. “That sounds dramatic, but it really is. Tennis is so positive, and it encourages you to do better, not just as a team or a player, but as a person. I really love it. You see people that are 60 playing tennis. You can play it till you have an oxygen tank hooked up to you. You can play it forever.”
Construction on the new courts was completed just three weeks ago, and the Tigers did not take shortcuts. The six-court facility has lights for evening play and a paved breezeway for spectators.
“I’ve got to give credit to the rest of the board,” said Germann. “Once we made the commitment that we were going to do it, we could have started with four courts and no lights. But we’re going to go all in and do it right the first time and have something that’s going to serve us well for a long time.”
Nagle recognizes the significance of a quality facility for the team.
“These are amazing facilities that we have,” said Nagle. “Other schools don’t have what we have right now. To be brand new and to have six courts that look this nice, to have this kind of setup is amazing. It’s been great.”
The Lady Tigers capped off the celebration with an 8-1 win over Neosho. The Lady Tigers’ Alice Go defeated Neosho’s Emily Mitchell 8-3. Go and Karson Phipps snatched a doubles win, 8-2. The Lady Tigers swept all three doubles matches.
#1. Alice Go (Willard) def Emily Mitchell (Neosho): 8-3
#2. Sarah Werner (Neosho) def. Karson Phipps (Willard): 9-8 (Tiebreak)
#3 Kaitlyn Burson (Willard) def. Julie Phillips (Neosho): 8-3
#4 Sarah Kiesewetter (Willard) def. Michelle Lindsay (Neosho): 8-2
#5 Neely Bridges (Willard) def. Rylee Marion (Neosho): 8-0
#6 Sarah Harris (Willard) def. Taaliyah Oates (Neosho): 8-1
#1 Go/Phipps (Willard) def. Mitchell/Werner (Neosho): 8-2
#2 Burson/Harris (Willard) def. Phillips/Marion (Neosho): 8-1
#3 Kiesewetter/Bridges (Willard) def. Lindsay/Oates (Neosho): 8-0