by Michael Smith
The Grain Valley tennis program has had a lot of success in recent years and the 2020-21 school year was no exception.
Last fall, the doubles team of Chelsea Gorden and Finley LaForge made the state semifinals before finishing fourth, the first duo in the history of the program to do so. On the boys side, this spring, twin brothers Carter and Cade Compton made it to the state boys doubles tournament and took eighth.
This season, Grain Valley hopes to sustain the success a few of its players had last season as more than 20 athletes participated in a summer cap last Tuesday and Wednesday at the high school.
So far, veteran head coach Randy Draper has liked what he’s seen.
“There are things these guys and girls are trying to add to their game and work on this summer, and this camp helps with that,” Draper said. “A lot of them are playing in tournaments that help them keep sharp.
“The high school tennis season is really short, so you have to get better outside the season or you’re behind. I am pleased. We have some good players and I like the way they are hitting the ball.”
A lot of the work players have been doing during summer camp has involved working on forehand shots and Draper’s personal favorite shot, volleys. The players have said the work they do during the camps has been beneficial.
“We have been working on doubles of course because it makes everyone better,” Gorden said. “We all have been in Summer Slam Tournaments, too, getting some work in before the season.”
Added LaForge: “There is a lot of team bonding that goes on during this time. We get to know each other really well. Every practice, we keep getting better and better.”
The Compton brothers echoed those sentiments.
“This gives us a chance to get better,” Carter Compton said. “We’re off the whole summer, so it gives us time to get better. My serve was bad, so I have used the summer to work on that.”
Not only that, but Draper has also had the girls play against the guys in scrimmages, which give the camps a unique dynamic.
“I grew up with the Comptons, so it’s pretty fun to play against them,” Gorten said. “They were new to tennis and they had a really successful season. It’s nice to have new competition because girls tennis and guys tennis are pretty different. The guys hit a lot harder.”
Kade Compton admitted the girls put up a tough fight against the boys.
“It’s pretty even,” He said. “Coach Draper splits everyone up. It’s pretty fun.”
The girls team will play this fall and will likely return most of its top six singles players from last season, including LaForge and Gorden. While many of the players will still be underclassmen, the majority of players will have at least one varsity season under their belts.
“We had three freshmen in our top six last year,” Draper said. “We are still young, we are just more experienced this time and we have some good senior players that will help us.”
While LaForge and Gorden said they hope to make it back to the girls doubles tournament and do even better than they did last year, they have some big team goals as well.
“We want to make it to state as a team,” LaForge said. “We were pretty close last year. This year, we are taking a big step forward. Everyone is putting in a lot of work.”
On the boys side, the Comptons are the only returning players that were in the top six for singles. Draper will depend on a lot of newer players to fill in the remaining four spots.
“Those guys are really good,” Draper said of the Comptons. “We have some other guys that are working hard, too. We lost some really good players from last year’s team and we have some young guys trying to step into those spots.
The first official practice for the girls team is Aug. 9. The boys will start their season in March 2022.