by John Unrein
Mind over matter was a big part of the Lady Eagles Tennis Camp the week of July 13th at Grain Valley High School. Keeping thoughts focused on competition instead of the sweltering heat were the intentions of Head Girls Tennis Coach Blake Thorne and Assistant Coach Randy Draper.
“Don’t be fooled. It’s not as hot as it looks. We’ve got a strong breeze coming off (Lake) Jacomo over here on this court,” Draper said.
Draper would interject questions and commentary in between drills and at water breaks as this was the most common time legitimate complaints would come from camp participants about the heat and humidity.
“What’s the best flavor of Mountain Dew? That’s a trick question, they’re all pretty good. Don’t step on that beetle. He has an important place in this world. Who can name me all four Beatles? I’ll give you a hint, the silent one was known as George Harrison.”
“What’s he talking about,” was a common initial response to Draper’s questions and comments by participants prior to engaging in conversation about Code Red being their favorite flavor of Mountain Dew or that they couldn’t name all the Beatles, but they had seen the movie Yesterday.
Camp was conducted in a rotational drill manner. Volley work, service practice, and doubles competition for points with coaches dropping in serve to start was part of the drill menu. The sequencing of drills kept camp attendees moving and avoiding boredom.
Constant encouragement and constructive criticism were offered by Thorne and Draper to help players improve.
“Forward and across with your racket when you’re stepping,” Draper said.
“I’d rather have two rackets clang together than have two good players watch the ball go by when we’re doing doubles.”
Draper continued, “When we try to teach the ball a lesson, it often comes out wrong. Focus on getting the ball over the net by contact first.”
Twenty-one high school girls were in attendance for camp. Upperclassmen Chelsea Gorden and Alyssa Owens are among those returning with varsity experience. Both Gorden and Owens are fresh off their first place finish in varsity doubles during the first of two Kansas City Summer Slam Series Tennis events.
“I look forward to being around the team again. We have some new friendships to forge as we graduated a lot of seniors last year,” Gorden said.
“I want us to keep winning conference. That’s definitely one of our goals. Us practicing with a focus will help us be good this upcoming season.”
Gorden concluded, “Playing matches out here helps us get back in the groove. You can practice hitting and serving on your own, but with so many USTA tournaments being cancelled this summer, this is important practice for us.”
The landscape of camp affords an opportunity for incoming freshmen to seniors to work on tennis fundamentals. The repetition of practicing swings, being in the habit of moving their feet, and getting work on hand eye coordination with a racket is something intended to make the start of high school tennis a little bit easier during the month of August.
“Youngsters won’t feel completely out of place when they walk into practice in a month. The kids that are more advanced will get to work on a couple of shots that will help elevate their game as well. It never hurts to see everyone else in this setting to know where you are as a player. We all want to improve,” Draper said.
Draper continued, “I have missed tennis. I love the competition. Both individual and team sports (as I coach both) have merit. In an individual game, if you win, you know why. If you lose, you know why.”
“There’s a motivation that comes out of this sport because it’s hard to hide on the tennis court. I love to watch a kid being able to hit a shot that a couple of weeks ago was a disaster. The look on their face when they get into matches and can then make that shot is awesome.”