The Rolla girls tennis team made a great run at the end of the season last year and is working to get back to that level of success in 2018, but they'll have to do it without some of their top players last year.
Rachel Butz was a pleasant surprise last year as she made a run to the Sweet 16 of the Individual State Tournament, while the team as a whole made it to the District Championship. Now Butz, as well as last year's number two Laura McCutcheon and a regular varsity contributor in Shanon Chan are gone and Rolla has to find out how to replace their skill sets.
"It is hard to replace those seniors," said Rolla head coach Joe Schisler. "Rachel Butz could go anywhere and compete at number one. Laura McCutcheon was both durable and flexible at two where she had a chance to win every match. And Shannan Chan had such a solid mental game that she could play in any potion at doubles competitively and also play at 6 singles. I think our girls will have to continue improving at being all those qualities: competitive, flexible, durable, and mentally strong."
While the Lady Bulldogs lost some of their top talent from last season, they still have some experienced players coming back. Olivia Burken, Rylee Kriete, Diya Allada and Kathleen Beetner all spent most of the season last year playing a mix of singles and doubles at the varsity level. They'll be joined by a pair of younger players that spent most of last season on the JV, as Mya Burken and Shay Pelfrey will start the season rounding out Rolla's top six. Mya Burken and Pelfrey are a part of a big young group that will compete for varsity time all season.
"I have 25 girls out and we have at least many more girls that I think could play varsity. Returners include Mya Burken, Shay Pelfrey, Sherri Chan, Molly Hardwick, Kayla Decker, Eliana Stanislawski," said coach Schisler. "We also have many talented, eager, and coachable freshmen working their way up the ladder. Too many to name, but I would be shocked if some of them didn’t letter and hope to give many a chance to."
Coach Schisler has several matches and tournaments that he's excited to see his team play in this season. While Rolla will not host their home tournament this season, they found a strong tournament to replace it. Coach Schisler is hoping some of the bigger teams on their schedule will be able to give his long list of players some quality matches this season.
"In the last couple years we have added some JV tournaments to increase playing time. This season we eliminated our own tournament and will travel to Helias for a flighted tournament. We will also go to Rock Bridge for a tournament," said the Rolla head coach. "I look forward to every match, but this year Camdenton and Waynesville both have big squads so I hope we can get lots of matches for the girls and maybe play some different formats like a 4 singles and 3 doubles with no playbacks."
Rolla comes into the season with a few question marks, but coach Schisler thinks the Lady Bulldogs can be like last year's team and surprise some people.
"By the end of the season I think all of our kids will be surprised with what they have accomplished. There is uncertainty in them now, but as our confidence grows, I think we will turn some heads at all positions," said coach Schisler. "I think we all saw how much a player can improve in a season last year when Rachel came out of nowhere to make it to the sweet 16. And Laura won a critical match in the district semifinal against a strong girl who had beaten her before. These girls make me proud every day with their determination, grit, and positivity. Good things follow when you have those."
Rolla opens their season on Tuesday, Aug. 28 when they host Jefferson City, who they faced in last season's District Championship.