School of the Osage's Davis ready to have fun at state tennis tournament

MICHAEL LOSCH, Lake Sun Sports Editor
Osage senior LIly Davis.

Osage senior Lily Davis sure is glad that mom put her in tennis lessons along with her older sister, Elise. 

Elise, a 2019 graduate at Osage, reached the state doubles tournament with teammate Kylie Misenheimer in 2018 and the duo finished with All-State honors after capturing eighth place. Well now, Lily gets to follow in sister’s footsteps and will have an opportunity to achieve a similar outcome after becoming a state qualifier in singles play. 

“I was super excited to tell her and she was super excited just because my mom put us in tennis lessons at the same time and I’m so glad she did because we love it,” Lily said of giving her sister the news that she had also become a state qualifier for the Indians. “We stuck with it and it really just showed.”

After winning a district championship in the Class 1 District 8 Tournament, Lily went on to secure a win in sectionals last Saturday in Marshall to punch her ticket to the final show and she will be one of 16 players with their eye on a state championship when the tournament gets underway on Friday from the Cooper Tennis Complex in Springfield. 

“Lily has worked hard every day in practice and I think that it has paid off for her. She came in as a good tennis player and has really progressed and improved and I think it is because she kept at it,” said Osage coach Ann Gulshen who is in her first season coaching the Indians. “Lily does not get really excited or really down, she stays really even keel and I think that is essential on a tennis court to be able to handle your emotions. I think that has served her well.”

That certainly seemed to be evident in the district finals when Davis was able to beat Boonville’s Emma Neidig, a player she had previously lost to earlier in the season. Both players were already guaranteed a trip to sectionals by being the final two tennis players left standing at districts, but Davis proved she had what it took to win. 

“I just stayed positive. I lost a couple of times to Emma, but I knew we were both pretty good players and I could beat her so that was my goal,” Lily stated. 

Gulshen noted that Lily has always remained a student of the game and she learned from those previous shortcomings against the opponent from Boonville, who also reached the state tournament. The coach said it may be wise for other players to follow the senior’s example.

“She takes a loss, and she’s only had a couple of them, but she takes a loss and learns from it. She takes that opportunity and she never loses, she either wins or she learns and grows,” the coach said. “I think that is important for all athletes to remember.”

And it has led to a pretty well-rounded game overall for the senior. Gulshen has only had the privilege of being Lily’s coach for one season, but the growth and development has been for her to watch. 

“She has got the whole package,” the coach pointed out. “She is really consistent, she is a smart player and sets up her shots well, she can handle pace or no pace and sometimes players tend to do better in one area. Lily is ale to handle whatever her opponent throws at her. She has just had a terrific year and with her improvement I’ve seen on the court, I am really excited for her.”

Davis is scheduled to face Lamar’s Alexia Phipps in the round of 16 and time will soon tell what Friday and Saturday have in store against some of the best tennis players the state of Missouri has to offer. Lily is not too worried about what lies ahead.

“I’m there to have fun. It is my senior year and I have nothing to lose,” she stated. “It is not like a million dollars is riding on this.” 

It should also be a fun experience for Gulshen who is known quite well for her coaching resume in a completely different sport. Before she began coaching tennis at Osage, Gulshen coached volleyball for 29 years at Eldon and Camdenton and compiled 704 career victories with 20 conference championships and 18 district championships between the two schools to go with eight trips to the Final Four, three state championship appearances and one state title before retiring in 2011.

So, perhaps it is not too shocking that another state tournament was in store for the longtime coach.

“It brings back so much energy and just great memories,” said the coach who was inducted into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame for her volleyball coaching career in 2018. “I live for the preseason and coach for the preseason and I never imagined I could be so excited. I just love this time of year, I love that competition when it is all on the line and I wanted to prepare the girls. They had that opportunity, Lily had that opportunity and she sees the moment. 

“It is just as exciting and to be a first year coach and to get to go to the finals and see what that is like in another sport, I am thrilled and so glad to be part of this ‘Tribe.’ Osage has just been phenomenal to work at,” Gulshen added. “They have such a positive culture and it has really been a fun ride. I’m just happy to be a part of it.”

Lily took some time to give her coach credit, too, for an enjoyable final season with the Indians. 

“I would not consider myself the best tennis player I’ve ever met but this year, I don’t know what’s different. I’ve been a lot better than I’ve been in years past and I think it is just our coaches,” the senior noted, pointing out ho much she has learned this year. “They know what they are doing so it’s helped me.”  

All that is left to do is go fight for a spot on the podium and Gulshen said Lily should be ready to go, knowing what she is capable of and having the right attitude.

“Her identity is not as a tennis player so I think that really helps. It is not like it is going to change her life one way or the other,” the coach said. “We don’t look ahead, we don’t look behind and she is just really good about living in the moment… I know she is going to give her best effort and I know she is going to represent Osage High School extremely well.

“It is just going to be going out there and having a great day and as she said, she likes to have fun, she does not put a lot of pressure on herself and I think that will help her in the end.”