by Michael Smith
After Thursday’s summer camp session at Grain Valley High School, head coach Randy Draper had a message for his players.
He pointed out a volunteer coach, former Eagles tennis player Ethan Cary, who graduated in 2021.
Draper noted that Cary started out as the No. 42 overall player on the Eagles during his freshman year. After putting in the work over four years, Cary got better and eventually became the No. 1 singles player on the varsity team his senior year.
“Let’s do the math here,” Draper said to the camp participants. “Ethan jumped 42 spots from his freshman year. You want to know why? It’s because he lived out here on the court and put in the work.”
Draper wanted his players to know that hard work pays off. And one avenue Draper provides for them to get better are summer camps. At the camp, there were about 30 players in attendance.
“We have a lot of kids out here who are new to the game,” Draper said. “I am always anxious to see which one falls in love with it. We have had a history of kids putting in the work and changing their high school trajectory and college trajectory for that matter. They said, ‘Whatever I have to do”
“We have some kids who are playing somewhere else at other camps. We have athletic kids who are playing soccer right now. We have basketball players, too. We try to give them several different days to choose from so we can have them come to some of those.”
This week, the Eagles practiced on Tuesday and Thursday, working on a variation of skills like footwork, serves, backhands and forehands.
“We had a group that played more and did some higher level stuff,” Draper said. “We had the newer people learn a forehand and a back hand. We also worked on some approach shots. We’re trying to touch on every level of player we have and give them something to work on.”
Cary added that the camps are valuable for those new to the game.
“When the younger girls and guys watch some of the experienced players like Ben (Drinkwater), it helps a lot,” Cary said. “They all learn how to hit the ball and get used to it.”
For experienced players like Drinkwater, it’s a way to keep sharp during the offseason.
“I am just trying to stay on top of my game,” Drinkwater said. “I know I am not going to play again until next March. I am going to play in the Summer Slam (tournaments). I just don’t want to lose what I gained this season.”
The summer camps will especially be important for the girls as their season will be this fall.
“We will have about 30 girls play this fall and that’s going to provide some motivation,” Draper said. “If you want to move up in the rankings, you have to live on the court.”
Grain Valley head tennis coach Randy Draper delivers a motivational story to his players after a tennis camp Thursday. Photo credit: Michael Smith
Grain Valley's Landon Gilbert uses a backhand to return the ball over the net. Photo credit: Michael Smith
Grain Valley's Ben Drinkwater looks on after hitting the ball over the net. Photo credit: Michael Smith