Tennis teams poised for another strong showing
By Richard White
The Greenwood High School tennis teams had a historic season in 2016, winning their conference tournament and their first ever boys state title, while the Lady Bulldogs finished third.
Some key seniors have moved on, but there are enough good players remaining, complimented by a new crop of freshmen and sophomores, to keep the program on solid footing. The 2017 season should be another good one for Head Coach Ken Hamilton and his GHS netters.
Among the top returning players are senior David “Woody” Woodring, who reached the finals of the 6A state tournament in singles before losing to teammate Andrew Anderson last fall. Also coming back is sophomore Olivia Gaston, who also lost in the girls 6A state finals last season as freshman.
Among his doubles players, Hamilton will once again have the services of Lindsay Gills, who might have won the state doubles title last year as a junior if not for a sudden illness that sidelined her partner, senior Maria Geoly. As a senior, Gills will have the option to play singles or doubles this year, according to Coach Hamilton.
Eighteen names appear on the roster for Greenwood, which begins its season next Thursday, August 17th, at Rogers Heritage. Among those names, 11 are girls and seven are boys.
“The girls are up and the boys are down,” said Coach Hamilton when asked about the numbers. There are also just two seniors and three juniors on the squad. But the coach is still pleased with the quality and potential of his players following a championship season in 2016.
“It was the first time our boys tennis had ever won state,” said Hamilton. “We’ve been runner-up a couple of times and had some great kids.” He also pointed out that it was the only team state title Greenwood won during the last school year. “That was unusual,” he added.
“It was our fourth state title – our girls had (previously) won three. But it just encourages the team,” he said. “The boys take a lot of pride in being defending state champions. It gives [them] a goal to shot for – [they] want to maintain that level and try to repeat as champions.”
As for his Lady Bulldogs, Hamilton laments the end of last season. “I feel confident we would have won it,” he said of the state title. “But the night before the semi-finals one of our girls knocked on my door and was running a high fever. She ends up in the hospital, gets a spinal tap, and they kept her overnight for observation. That was Lindsay Gills’ partner (Geoly), and I think they were the best doubles team there.”
Geoly was unable to play and Hamilton replaced her with senior Kristin Keene, which wasn’t fair to any of the girls involved. Greenwood lost the match to Mountain Home against the top ranked doubles team in 6A at that time.
“That’s just the way sports is,” said the coach. “But I feel confident that we’ll beat those same girls this year, because they are coming back.”
When asked, Gills remains unsure if she wants to continue playing doubles or try her hand at singles.
“If [seniors] want to play singles or doubles, I try to accommodate them if it doesn’t adversely affect the team,” said Hamilton. “Right now, if I had to put her on the court with somebody it would be [sophomore] Abigail Woodring. She is a top player and likes to play tournaments. She’s Woody’s sister, so she’s got some good genetics. Her dad taught her the game of tennis and taught her well.
“But Lindsay puts so much spin and speed on the ball,” added Hamilton. “I’ve had some hard hitters, but I’ve never had a [girl] hit the ball the way that Lindsay hits it. It’s hard to handle, and she just works, and works, and works to get better.”
Continuing his assessment of his top players, the coach said, “Woody was runner-up to Andrew Anderson, and they are two of the best kids I’ve ever had in the program. Andrew was the River Valley tennis player of the year. They both played their hearts out. But Woody has continued to grow.
“He’s over six feet tall with long arms and legs. He can cover a lot of court and his serve is really coming on. To me, right now, Woody is the favorite to win the district singles title, if not the state, depending on the kind of season he has. He works hard and wants to get better. He also wants to play college tennis. When they are motivated like that, they are easy to work with,” said the coach.
“Olivia as a freshman was runner-up in the state to a girl from Mountain Home, so we scheduled them as a non-conference match this year so we can measure ourselves against them.
“Olivia is a grinder. You can’t intimidate her. She’s not scared of anybody, and she will just work as hard as you want her to work. She probably wants to play college tennis,” said Hamilton.
“She’s one of the top players in the state just because of her work ethic and talent. She’ll be here for three more years. She’s a force to be reckoned with.”
When asked about the youth of his team, Hamilton agreed. “It is,” he said. “It’s a young squad, but it’s good quality.” He went on to describe the difference between recreational players and tournament players.
“Woody, Olivia, Abigail, and Lindsay are tournament players,” he explained. “They play all year long. You want as many tournament players as you can get, and we’ve got four of them.”
As for the supporting cast, the coach was quick to mention up-and-coming junior Kenny Sweeny. “Kenny is a good all-around athlete. He’s a goalie on the soccer team and he’s got quickness.
“I’ve got Eli Butler back. He’s a sophomore and a swimmer. He’s a good athlete. Zackary Beshears is a freshman and he’s going to be a good player. [Freshman] Jonathan Mitchell is a good all-around athlete. He can play any sport he wants to, and he can be a really good tennis player.
[Junior] Auston Shown is a basketball player. He’s over six feet tall with big arms and legs. I’m trying to make him into the kind of player that can serve and come to the net and just smother everybody. That’s a really good, talented squad, even though its young.”
As for the GHS ladies, Hamilton said, “I’ve got [sophomore] Madie Pelt coming back. She’s played some tournaments and she is a good player for us. [Sophomore] Breana Acosta is a good athlete that just needs some tennis experience.
“Mollie Wisner, Jessalyn Jones, and Abbie Rudder [all sophomores] are newbies,” said the coach. “They are still learning the game. They’re what I call recreational players now. They won’t be competitive on the conference level, but we’ll try to get them enough junior varsity matches.
“[Freshman] Sarah Beshears is a good, strong girl athlete, and [junior] Amber [Alzufari] is coming along with her game. She’s taking some private lessons. [Sophomore] Kaitlyn Bailey is just a girl who loves to play tennis.
“Potentially we should win the conference again I believe, both boys and girls. With a good singles and good doubles you can win the conference. Jonesboro is a power in the state in tennis, and we were very glad to beat them last year. This conference is not as strong as the other conference, but I think we’re going to do fine.
As for the schedule this season, the coach said, “We’re going to Rogers Heritage [next week] and they’ve got 20 boys and 20 girls. I said ‘I’ll bring everybody I’ve got and we’ll play as long as we can.’ Then we have Pulaski Academy, which has Division I college [recruits] on the team. They are one of the top private schools in the state. They’ve got a tremendous tennis program. So that let’s our top players measure themselves against other top players.”
Greenwood will also play several matches at Arkansas Tech University in Russellville. “We’re trying to cut down on travel and play as many games as we can and not have to drive to El Dorado and Texarkana,” said Hamilton. “We’re just not going to do it. I’m not going to keep them out of class that long.”
Hamilton also talked candidly about the condition of the community courts in Greenwood. “The courts are deteriorating and it gets to be a safety issue, especially if you get any amount of moisture on the courts. They get really slick, so I’ve booked a lot of away matches so we’ll have a safe place to play with six courts.
“If the weather is good we can play here without any problem. Our courts have served us well, but Father Time has taken its toll on them. We’ve resurfaced them before, but they are beyond resurfacing now. They need reconstruction of some type. A couple things need to be done just to make sure they are safe and will last longer.”
Finally, Hamilton mentioned several fundraising opportunities for individuals or businesses interested in supporting the GHS tennis program.
“We have a rather small budget,” he said. “We’re not a revenue producer. We’re a consumer, and we understand that. We have to raise money just to make sure we have adequate supplies for the team. You’ve got to have fresh balls,” he said as an example of where the money goes, in addition to matching clothing for the team.
There will be an alumni tournament this Saturday (August 12th) beginning at 10 a.m. at the Greenwood courts. The admission fee is $25 per player. There will also be a ladies night out doubles tournament in September, with the date yet to be determined. The entry fee is also $25 per player and members of the GHS team will attend to the needs of all the players.
The team also has a banner program for those who wish to buy sponsorships. Anyone interested in learning more about these funding opportunities should contact Coach Hamilton at 479-221-5590.
In closing the interview, Hamilton said that he got involved with the GHS tennis program because his three daughters were players. “This will be my 21st year. That just proves it’s hard to fire a volunteer. Every year is my last year. I’ve quit every year for the last 10 years,” he said jokingly.
“I’ve been real glad to be associated with the program. It’s been enjoyable working with the kids.”