Tennis advances three to regional tourney

by Blake Seitz

Sports Editor

The District 6-5A Tournament was a bitter-sweet experience for some members of the Coppell tennis program. In many ways, the tournament exemplified the adage ‘out with the old, in with the new’—it was the last hurrah for many of the team’s seniors, and an exciting opportunity for a select few underclassmen.

Three Coppell players—a doubles pair and a singles player—will advance to the regional tournament.

The girls team exceeded expectations, placing second overall and advancing a doubles pair, comprised of second-seeded Rajashekar and sophomore Tammy Bell, to the regional tournament. Rajashekar and Bell won first place in the tournament over a first-seeded team from Flower Mound Marcus. Freshman Abbey White will go to regionals as an alternate, having placed third.

The boys team, for its part, placed third overall, advancing freshman Tyler Stayer to the regional tournament. The third-seeded team of senior captain Jacob Rao and senior Blake Taylor narrowly missed qualifying, losing a tough-fought match (1-6, 6-7) to a fourth-seeded Flower Mound team.

Team results matter little in the spring reason, so district is all about the individual. Sometimes this can lead to less team spirit, as players who didn’t qualify have little reason to cheer for those who do.

Regardless of their stake in the tournament, members of the Coppell squad were out in force to cheer embattled teammates. Senior Joseph Stepina, described affectionately by senior captain Shruthi Rajashekar as the ‘team dad,’ did not qualify for district but was present to support his teammates anyway.

“Cheering plays a major role in tennis,” Stepina said. “It can help lift the play of your teammates and can be overwhelming to your opponents. It makes them feel like they’re playing more than just one or two people, but a whole crowd.”

Senior captain Shruthi Rajashekar attributes the team spirit to the close bond its members have formed during the year.

“We definitely won the cheering match,” Rajashekar said. “We support our own—the other teams not so much.”

It would seem Coppell was the better for its spirit.

Tennis coach Jane Jackson is understandably happy with her players’ performances.

“I’m very proud of our accomplishments,” Jackson said. “Our team played with a great deal of heart and perseverance.”

For Rao and Taylor, the loss to Flower Mound marked the end of four years of play for the Coppell tennis program. Needless to say, it was an emotional ending, but one that was well fought.

“I can’t compliment our seniors enough on their commitment, work ethic and desire to take us to the next level,” Jackson said. “Blake Taylor and Jacob Rao are phenomenal as players and leaders. Flower Mound played well today and we came up a little short of our goal.”

The pair will still travel to Lubbock for the regional tournament, though, to coach Stayer as he prepares for his match.

In many ways, the team rallied around its three freshmen (the other district qualifier was freshman Mira Shah), who didn’t realize the magnitude of their accomplishments—or of the challenge ahead.

“I don’t think Tyler understands he’s playing in regionals as a freshman,” Rajashekar said. “That’s a really big deal. It shows the future of our team is strong.”

Before they can focus on next season, however, the team must focus on the immediate future. The regional tournament is later this month in Lubbock, so the three qualifiers will be practicing hard the next few weeks to prepare themselves.

“Tammy and I will be playing a lot against Jacob and Blake,” Rajashekar said. “We’ll run drills and work on our volleys and net game.”

The non-qualifying seniors, meanwhile, have little to do but help their teammates prepare for the big tournament. Their exit from competitive play marks the end of a long road—oftentimes four years of practice and effort.

“Finishing is really sad, because this is such a good program,” Rao said.

The program’s future is bright, though, something the seniors realize.

“I’m hopeful, though, because we have two freshman to carry on our tradition,” Rao continued. “I know I’m leaving it in good hands.”