The girls tennis team at Manhattan High has nearly tripled in numbers since head coach Tony Ingram’s first season in 2016. Back then, the team had 13 players. The numbers steadily grew from year to year as Ingram more responsibility and ownership to his players, but this year was a leap.
“We are a number of 36 girls out for the team this year,” Ingram, whose team opens its season Thursday afternoon at Junction City, said. “We return a lot of our varsity players we had last year. In fact, we return all of them except Kira Schartz, who had a knee injury in soccer. That is causing us to look for another couple players to fill in some doubles spots for us.”
Fortunately for Ingram, there is a lot of talent, upperclassmen or not, playing for him at the varsity level this year. He’s got seven varsity girls, counting the injured Schartz. Kate McGee and Joanna Park return as seniors. Park is on the No. 1 doubles team, and likely will be paired with sophomore Hannah Loub while McGee will play with the No. 2 doubles team. Ingram said a freshman, Maura Wiens, probably will play alongside McGee. Jill Harkin, another freshman, and Kayla Lei, a junior, round out the varsity team as the singles players.
“I think we have a great opportunity and a really solid team,” Ingram said. “We do have some girls who are playing some different spots. I think Harkin will be ready for her position. We don’t start out with super competitive matches early, but we will see how our (number) two doubles and (number) one doubles get to know each other.”
The massive roster size and mixture of youthful players alongside some veterans has fashioned a culture Ingram already is happy with.
“There is a cohesiveness that makes things run more smoothly because the girls do a great job of leading and making each other feel a part of the team,” Ingram said.
When it comes to things like team shirts or pictures or events, Ingram gives his team the keys often times. The freshmen get a say in some of the decision making alongside the seniors. This makes it easier for the team to bond and feel together. But it’s not all easy.
“We do have 16 freshmen who are a part of the 36,” Ingram said. “We have six seniors total. Those three mentioned are on varsity and the other three are able to be leaders at the junior varsity level. We have to be a little more organized, we have to communicate a little better and be smart with coaching staff and parents. We have to help show them what the expectations are and how we run the program.”
Everyone will take the court at some point, but on the JV team there are so many girls that some only will play one or two matches during the season. The system Ingram has in place is pretty laid back there, too: Those girls don’t have to attend every single practice.
Realistically, there isn’t enough court landscape for that anyways.
“We thought that tennis is a lifelong sport and that a lot of girls want to try other sports, too, and spend time with other people after school and be a part of a program,” Ingram said. “That’s an important part. We chose to give them that opportunity.”
The leadership is there with this team, Ingram said. Losing Schartz leaves a considerable void to overcome — she has paired with Lei in the No. 1 doubles spot each of the last two seasons, going to the 6A state tournament twice and helping the Indians win the Centennial League title for the first time in program history last year.
But Schartz still will be around at practice and even travel with the team to some of the meets. Setting that type of example, in tandem with Park and McGee, leaves Ingram excited for what’s to come.
“They definitely show the leadership and explain to some of the girls, what we do and how we do it,” Ingram said. “That is good to have and you hope to have that from year to year.”