For a sport that’s among the safest to play during a global pandemic, tennis hasn’t been without its complications at the high school level.
The delayed start of UIL fall sports for the state’s 5A and 6A programs meant an abbreviated non-district schedule for team tennis — one so short that Plano West began playing district opponents on Tuesday in just its third match of the year.
Despite the less-than-ideal prep time, the Wolves are in familiar territory. West is 3-0 after lopsided verdicts of Allen (17-2), McKinney Boyd (16-3) and Lewisville (18-1), the lattermost coming last Tuesday in the team’s district opener.
“We’ve missed out on half our season, but most of my kids continued to play tennis all this time,” said Morgen Walker, West head coach. “There was a list that the [Center for Disease Control and Prevention] put out on certain activities and how safe they are, and tennis one of the safest things you can do. You’re outdoors and 78 feet apart if you’re playing singles. It’s a good thing to do, so most of my kids have continued playing since everything started.”
With some U.S. Tennis Association events on hold over the summer, Walker said his players stayed active by simply training at the school’s practice courts.
“They were meeting up and doing things while still keeping their distance. You can still be responsible and get some stuff done,” Walker said.
That added prep time has helped mitigate some concerns about early-season rust, as West continues to forge an identity in hopes of making another run to the state tournament. The Wolves made that very trip last season but failed to exit with its ultimate goal intact after a late rally by Houston Memorial proved the difference in a 10-7 decision in the Class 6A state championship match.
Only two seniors graduated from that team, albeit two from West’s starting lineup in alums Caden Moortgat and Alexandra Ma, and 16 total players return from last year’s state runner-up.
“The more returners you have, the more expectations stay solid and don’t need to be changed,” Walker said. “When you have a lot of returners, they help educate the new kids of what’s expected during practice, cheering in matches and team goals. When you have a lot of returners, it reinforces it even more.”
Returners from the Wolves’ state championship lineup include senior Arjun Kerstern, sophomore Kishan Kersten, junior Ethan Scribner, junior Utham Koduri, sophomore Anirudh Reedy, senior Janet Pham, senior Estefania Hernandez, and senior Elyssa Ducret and junior Reagan Dixon.
Just how much court time those player see early on has varied. On Tuesday against Lewisville, Walker used 21 different players across the 19 matches played.
“I’m going to try and play a lot of kids,” Walker said. “I want to get them experience and build depth so we have people ready to play in case we need to step up.”
There will be plenty of chances to do so as West begins a revamped district schedule that includes matchups with Lewisville ISD and Coppell — several of whom are ranked among the region’s best by the Texas Tennis Coaches Association.
With West sitting atop Region I-6A, Coppell entered the year ranked No. 4, with Flower Mound at No. 6 and Marcus at No. 8. Overall, the Wolves are tabbed No. 3 in 6A, trailing only Round Rock Westwood and defending state champ Memorial in the preseason poll.
Despite the change in scenery, including a split from an Allen team that has developed a rivalry with the Wolves, Walker said expectations remain intact as the program targets another big year on the tennis courts.
“Typically, the LISD schools tend to play pretty good tennis. Coppell has been very good for a long time. The district top to bottom may be stronger than it has been in the past, but we still look at it as these teams needing to get ready for us,” Walker said. “We feel good about our situation and whatever district we’re in — we’re just going to go out there and play hard, and our expectations won’t change.”