Kristen Fraley knows what it’s like to make it to state tennis as a freshman.
Now as a sophomore, she gets the chance to impart that knowledge to another freshman qualifier, Cathy Lei.
The two will be representing Manhattan High at the state tennis meet that started today at Shawnee Mission East.
Fraley said her biggest piece of advice is to just stay relaxed, despite the pressure of playing the best the state has to offer.
“It sounds a lot easier than it is, but if you relax, it gets so much easier,” Fraley said. “It’s just calming down your nerves and playing the way you know you can play.”
Helping the pair of singles players will be a rule change that decreases pressure in the first match.
“Last year, if you lost your first one, you had one more match and you were done,” Fraley said. “So they changed the rules so there’s not as much pressure on the first match.”
Losing two matches still eliminates you under the new rule, but if you lose your first because of an unfavorable matchup but manage to win your next two, you move on to Saturday and still have a shot at fifth place in the consolation side of the bracket.
For Lei, who made it as the final qualifier from the Wichita East regional, being a freshman gives her a slight advantage in that no one has seen her play.
“People don’t know my game and they don’t know how I play, so they’re not expecting anything,” Lei said. “And being a freshman, they’re not expecting me to be good. So I’ll try and surprise them.”
Head coach Joyce Allen agreed.
“It gives her a little advantage,” she said. “The fact that both she and Kristen are lefties is huge. So she really is an unknown element. But it’s going to be overwhelming for her tomorrow. It was overwhelming for Kristen last year, even though she’d been to state when she was younger to watch her sister.”
For Fraley, making it to the season’s final tournament was a relief.
“I’m definitely excited to be returning to state,” she said. “I was a little bit nervous at the beginning of the season just because I made it last year — I didn’t want to mess up and not make it this year. But I’m glad to be returning and to have another shot at it.”
Now that she’s been on this stage before, she is hoping to earn a medal.
“I would really like to place this year,” she said. “The singles competition is really tough, so I don’t know if that’s a very realistic possibility, but that’s my goal this year.”
The two have been practicing together this week in preparation for state. These practices are different because their teammates aren’t around, which may not be as fun, but helps the two to focus.
“I think it’s easier,” Fraley said. “Less distractions. It’s easier to focus when there’s less people on the court.”
Allen said she’s been trying to get the two to loosen up and just play their best this weekend.
“What I’ve tried to tell them is it’s all gravy now,” she said. “They’ve made it. They don’t need to be nervous, they need to just go up there and hit and really enjoy the experience and the moment.”
If either of them win two matches, they’ll get the chance to play on Saturday . Lose two, and they come home early. Either way, Lei is happy to extend her season by that extra week.
“I’m glad I made it to state,” she said. “I’ll go and play my hardest and whatever ends up happening will happen.”