After a couple lean years in the win column, head coach Robert Whyte wants to see his boys tennis squad take a step forward this spring.

After a couple lean years in the win column, head coach Robert Whyte wants to see his boys tennis squad take a step forward this spring.
The Tigers haven’t won a match in two years, going 0-13 in each of the last two regular seasons, with the team’s last win a 5-0 effort against Neosho in the 2014 district tournament.
That hasn’t affected enthusiasm, though, with a large group of 26 players coming out for the team this spring. In most years Whyte and assistant Mark Lingenfelter have between 14 and 18 players to coach.
“It’s a young group, too,” he said before a practice last week. “We’ve had a lot of young kids come in. Five or six freshmen, a couple of first-year sophomores in there. We’ve got a good beginning group.”
While largely a young, inexperienced roster, the team does return an experienced core. None of last year’s seniors were in the top eight, and everybody who was has returned this year.
Experienced returning players include Tommy Neuenswander, Damon Teel, Chris Roberts, Royce Worley, José Casteñeda, Gabe Hook, Elijah Paden and Austin Ward. Each earned a letter last season.
“It’s probably been about five years since I’ve had that much returning,” Whyte said.
“The nice thing about it is between Tommy, Damon and Austin we’ve got three guys who have played at the number one position,” he said.
This year’s lineup is anything but set in stone, with Whyte describing things as “very fluid” with challenge matches still to come to set a ladder for the beginning of the season.
“I’ve got a feeling the ladder we have at the beginning of the year will not be the ladder we finish the year with,” he said. “I think there will be some guys jockeying for position and I expect some of them to make some improvement and take some steps during the year.”
While the lineup fluctuated last year, the Tigers went with a one-through-six singles lineup of Neuenswander, Teel, Ward, Worley, Roberts and Casteñeda in last season’s final regular season match. Neuenswander and Teel teamed up as the No. 1 doubles duo, followed by Ward and Hook at No. 2 and Casteñeda and Paden at No. 3.
In the three weeks since practices began, expecting to “come out and be world beaters,” Whyte said he’s been a little disappointed.
“I have to temper my expectations to, ‘This is reality, it’s spring, we’re just getting started,’” he said. “I feel good about where they can be. They’re not where I want them right now but I think we can be in a good position.”
Whye said all he can ask for this year is for the team to be competitive in every match, saying the wins will come. Step one, he said, is to be competitive.
“For us, every match is a marquee event,” he said. “We’ve been so young and inexperienced, we’re ready to take that step forward. We were competitive and close in probably two or three matches last year. We had our chances and just gave some matches away. Our next step is take advantage of the opportunities we get and turn those into wins.”
The team still lacks a true No. 1 player, Whyte said; a player who can go out every match and dominate the other team.
“And there’s some strong competition in the area, too, when you talk about some of the Springfield schools and the kids who spend their entire year in a facility playing tennis, not playing basketball or another sport,” said Lingenfelter.
Looking around the area, both coaches expect Ozark, Nixa and Branson to be at the top of the Central Ozarks Conference standings.
“Truthfully I really expect quality-wise probably to be down a little bit overall this year,” Whyte said. “We graduated some really good players in the conference last year.”
The Tigers will play five home matches, beginning March 30 against Branson. The team will host Webb City on April 11, Neosho on April 13, Carl Junction on April 19 and Nixa on April 27. All matches begin at 4:30 p.m.
The season starts on Friday, March 24 for the team’s junior varsity squad, which will play in the JV tournament at Republic. Carthage’s varsity team travels to Republic for a match on Monday, March 27.
Carthage will play in tournaments at Thomas Jefferson (April 21), Monett (April 26), Republic (April 28) and the COC tournament on May 3. Districts are slated to begin May 12.