As the Manhattan High boys’ tennis team opens its season today at Washburn Rural, head coach Joyce Allen feels good about the depth her team has to start 2014.
For Allen, who is returning as boys’ coach after a 10-year hiatus, Manhattan’s young stable of tennis players is encouraging to see.
“We have huge ninth-grade and sophomore classes, which is fabulous,” Allen said. “I don’t know who to thank for that, whether that’s the middle schools or what. I’m just stunned.
“I didn’t have to teach anybody how to play, how to serve, how to keep score, and some years, that’s what’s going on. The quality of these kids, especially the varsity boys, is really high.”
Allen coached the team for 13 years before opting to focus exclusively on her duties with the girls’ team. She said the adjustment to boys after coaching the girls’ team in the fall is a familiar one.
“There are different challenges — not nearly the drama,” she said. “There’s a lot of boy bickering, it’s not bullying — I’m the biggest bully on the team. They just all want to play, all the time. If it’s windy and cold, they still want to play. They’re pretty good about that, and girls, not as much.”
Allen inherits a strong team from former coach Chuck Kipp, who left to take an administrator job in Garden City over the summer. Of the five players Manhattan sent to state last spring, the Indians return four, with only Jake Seaton lost to graduation. Kirkland Lambert, Jonathan Turnley, Ben Turnley and Matt Turnley all return, though Jonathan may be out for extended time with a shoulder injury.
“The bad news is that JT has hurt his shoulder,” Allen said. “He heard it rip yesterday going for an overhead. We’re going to do what’s best for JT. He’s got a soccer scholarship, and we don’t want to jeopardize that.”
Even before Jonathan’s injury, Lambert requested to play singles, and should slot in as the team’s top player.
“Kirkland Lambert wants to play singles this year, and I’m going to honor that,” Allen said. “He can take it and he can give it, and I think he’s interested in seeing what he can do.”
Possibly playing at No. 2 singles is sophomore Carter Nelson, who has capitalized on a strong start to spring practices.
Past that, Allen is unsure who will slot where, and will use the early part of the season to gauge how each athlete is best utilized.
“We’ve had a few days of good practice, which is important,” she said. “I’ve got to see everybody play singles and doubles, so I can figure out a couple of teams.”
Allen said the team had 30 boys come out, which has helped foster the team’s depth while providing a healthy mix of older and younger players.
“I have four seniors, Jake Carlson, Lakith Ranaweera, JT and Oscar Serrate,” she said.
“I have two ninth graders up here with me, Matt Morgan and Bryce Easton, and they’re both going to make contributions.”
Allen said the schedule lines up well, but she wouldn’t mind more opportunities to play. She’s already added a dual with Olathe Northwest in Manhattan on May 3.
“We’ll have a great schedule,” she said. “I would like to have a few more meets, but that’s OK.”