Despite the sweltering temperatures this past week, the girls’ tennis teams at School of the Osage and Camdenton High School have been busy preparing for their seasons.
As with most schools blessed to have a large number of athletes, Camdenton graduated several varsity players in the spring, meaning many fresh faces with no varsity­-level experience have filled in the open roster spots for the Lady Lakers. But fortunately, the Lady Lakers have their number one player returning from last year.
Senior Finessa Rassel returns at the top spot. In 2013, Rassel was a sectional qualifier.
This year, with districts slightly realigned, Rassel looks to match and surpass that feat in 2014.
"She's coming in with a lot more confidence," coach Kirk Richey said.
Rassel played a bit tentatively in her first year in the top slot, but Richey said she's played throughout the summer at Cooper Tennis Complex in Springfield and has improved immensely.
"She understands how to manage points better, which will help her in facing more difficult competition," Richey added.
Junior Maisy Borden moves up from the number five spot to the number two. Borden and Rassel played doubles together in 2013 and already have a solid doubles chemistry.
Senior Janelle Blackwell is the only other player with varsity experience having played partially at the number six spot in 2013. She moves up to number three.
Junior Carleigh Emanuel, senior Taylor Erickson and junior Jazmine Aufdenkamp round out the rest of the Lady Lakers varsity team.
The team will be tested early in the season, with difficult matches at Glendale, Lebanon and Waynesville. But unlike past years, the team has already been in competition mode challenging for the several open varsity positions.
"In the past, those spots were locked up," Richey said. "These girls came in this year really ready for challenge matches."
An astounding thirteen freshmen showed up to the team this year, and with room to grow, the Lady Lakers could be poised for a strong showing down the line in a few years.
"As a team, we're inexperienced, but the future looks bright," Richey said.
The 2014 season for the Lady Indians tennis has already proven to be a year of firsts.
Longtime coach Scott Blacksher retired and first­year coach Kelly Pfitzner has stepped in to fill some very large shoes. This year was also the first year for a tennis development camp to start recruiting players as young as third grade to cull an interest in the lifetime sport.
But until those younger players reach high school, the Lady Indians will have to make do with a small, seven-­person team in 2014.
Like Camdenton, the Osage team will have stability in the top spot. Senior Hannah Bashore returns as the number one player. Thrust into the position last year, Bashore should improve with a year of experience under her belt.
Senior Kristina Ruck moves up to the number two position while junior Courtney Grasshoff, a three­year varsity player, is slated to play number three.
Sophomore Kaitlyn Ruck, junior Jessi Smith and junior Savannah Winn round out the varsity lineup.
Pfitzner — who coached soccer in Illinois, but is a lifelong tennis player — complemented her team's drive and support of one another.
She said many of the girls took advantage of free clinics and took lessons over the summer. The advantage of having a small team, she said, translates into a close­knit group.
"They'll cheer each other on in challenge matches. It's like a family in a sense," Pfitzner said. "They help other out."
Pfitzner said the team's goal is to have a winning record through the conference  schedule.
"If you enjoy the game first, the wins will come," she added.
Osage opens their season at home on Monday against Smith­-Cotton before playing at Richland Tuesday.