Trojan girls’ tennis regroups while boys rebuild
The Fairfield girls’ tennis team is feeling the loss of several key players this spring, yet head coach Heidi Grunwald believes she has the returning talent to pick up where her team left off last season.
That returning talent begins with senior Haylee Gilpin, who has become a fixture at the top of the lineup over the years, plus sophomore Karley Williams and senior Kim O’Carroll. All three Trojans were letter winners last spring.
To begin the season, Gilpin has earned the No. 1 spot in the lineup and looks primed for a big senior season.
“I think Haylee, for sure, will do really well this year,” said Grunwald.
Williams, too, has looked like a No. 1 singles player in the making.
“She started the beginning of last season at the very bottom of the ladder, and she challenged so much that she got to No. 6,” the fourth-year head coach recalled. “She keeps moving up and now wants that No. 1 spot.”
The top three Trojans have big shoes to fill. All three are moving up singles spots in the absence of senior Jennifer Clements, who is currently recovering from open-heart surgery, as well as 2012 graduates Megan Palmer and Alex Higdon.
Clements, who was the team’s No. 1 player last season, won’t be able to play but will still be at practices helping Grunwald manage the team.
“She’s a big loss for us, but hopefully everyone will step up for us and jump up some spots,” said Grunwald. “And from what I’ve seen so far they’re doing very well.”
Others who should contribute right away include seniors Rachel Hathaway, Courtney Laux and Hanna Kerr. All three will be on varsity to start the season after putting in their time at the JV level last spring.
Madison Soupiset, a sophomore, did not play last year but has the talent to challenge for a varsity spot, added Grunwald.
Doubles will be an interesting experiment at first. Due to the limited number of practices this chilly preseason, few of the girls have played together as duos. Still, Grunwald noted doubles play should be one of the Trojans’ strongest areas by midseason.
“From what I’ve seen, we have some groups that work together well,” she said. “It’s just about getting them to talk and move.”
At first, O’Carroll and Gilpin will form the No. 1 doubles team, while Laux and Kerr and Hathaway and Williams will make up the other two teams.
Fairfield has finished second in the Southeast Conference the last two seasons, and Grunwald said she expects her Trojans to again compete with the best the conference has to offer. They finished just behind Keokuk at last season’s conference tournament, well ahead of Fort Madison and Mount Pleasant for second place.
“We should do OK. I think we’ll play right with the other teams,” said Grunwald. “Time will tell.”
The Trojans will see just how well they stack up against one of the conference’s best when they visit Keokuk today in the season opener. Competition gets under way at 4:30 p.m.
Punj returns for boys
The Fairfield boys’ tennis team is being built from the ground (almost) all the way up this spring.
In fact, only one player returns from last season’s successful 2013 campaign, while the remaining seven athletes are entirely new to the sport.
“We lost an entire team of seniors, so it’s a building year,” said Fairfield head coach Bill Sheppard. “We’re just kind of taking it one day at a time right now.”
The familiar face, sophomore Alexander Punj, knows a thing or two about making a splash right away. The Trojan won a district title and qualified for state in just his first season last spring, and he didn’t even lose a match until the individual state tournament.
Joining Punj in the varsity lineup this season will be Josh Alonso, a senior, at No. 2. Sophomores dot the rest of the lineup as Landen Greiner has been pencilled into the No. 3 spot and Chance Nicely is No. 4. Gannon Haile and Alex Simpson are also on varsity to start the season.
Sophomore Evan Wood and junior Roberto Estrella round out the roster at spot Nos. 7 and 8, respectively.
“For most of these players they never even played tennis until three weeks ago,” the head coach said. “We simply want the newcomers to have a good time and be competitive.”
And with so much uncertainty on the roster, doubles teams will be assembled through much trial and error. The two lanky basketball players, Greiner and Simpson, will make up one team. The two other duos remain undecided, Sheppard said.
Along with Punj and Sheppard, new assistant coach Clint Stephenson will be tasked with getting Nos. 2-8 up to speed quickly.
“We’re fortunate to have Clint here. He’s a really accomplished player and has spent a lot of time working with the kids. He’s a big addition to the squad,” said Sheppard.
The Trojan boys have their first of four home meets today with their season opener vs. Southeast Conference rival Keokuk. Start time is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. at the Fairfield Middle School courts.