Special to The Citizen
Coming off a 2-10 season and losing just one senior to graduation, coach Ian Cunliff and the Park Hill South tennis team is looking to recreate a “culture of winning” within the program in 2018.
An unexpected infusion of talent from rival Park Hill may help speed up that process. Cooper Hayes, the Trojan’s No. 1 player a season ago as a sophomore, will now man the top spot for the Panthers after transferring schools following a 2017 season that saw him lead the Trojans to a Class 2 District 16 title and team with Chandler To to finish second in doubles in the district tournament and advance out of sectionals to the Missouri Class 2 State Tournament.
Despite losing last year’s No. 2 player, Jason Jeong, to graduation and senior Joe Badalucco — last year’s No. 1 and a Class 2 sectional qualifier in singles in 2016 –— deciding not to play this season, Cunliff is expecting improvement this season from a squad that saw younger players gain valuable experience in 2017.
“Our goal is to improve every day, to compete to the best of our ability and to establish a culture of winning,” said Cunliff, who is assisted by Glynis Chambers. “We are going to be working hard to improve. We are going to control what we can and deal with the rest in a positive fashion.”
In addition to the transfer of Hayes, Park Hill South returns last year’s No. 3 and No. 4 players, junior Andrew Robaska and senior Brandon Crabtree from a team that underwent a youth movement a year ago after falling to Park Hill in the Class 2 District 15 finale each of the two previous years.
Cunliff also expects sophomore Michael Verhoeven, one of 16 freshmen on the roster a season ago, to contribute at the varsity level this season.
Hayes and the Panthers will waste little time getting their feet wet this season, with two duals and — including a matchup with the Trojans, who won last year’s regular season meeting 5-1 — and a tournament during the first week of the season.
“Park Hill is always the biggest match on our schedule,” Cunliff said of the March 29 showdown.