Smith-Cotton tennis is surprising everyone.
After finishing 3-8 last season, the Tigers have found their teeth under first-year head coach Rush Walters and improved to 5-3 with a sweep Tuesday over Clinton at Liberty Park in Sedalia.
Opponents are taking notice of the Tigers’ improvement.
“Most people didn’t expect us to do well this year,” senior Jacob Hedrick said. “We’ve had a coach tell us, ‘Wow, you guys are a lot better than I remember!’”
Hedrick, the only 4-year senior on the roster, admitted the team is exceeding his own expectations. He defeated Clinton’s Tate Frost in his singles match 8-4 Tuesday.
“We’re doing a lot better than I thought we were going to do,” Hedrick said. “I was a little worried coming in because of our numbers, but it’s turned out pretty well.”
Smith-Cotton’s No. 1 is sophomore David Cho. Armed with a forehand capable of surprising force, he swept his Clinton opponent 8-0 in singles.
Cho said the difference for Smith-Cotton was establishing a zealous attitude.
“(Walters), in a sense, wants to win,” Cho said. “He pushes us to become better instead of just, playing for fun. Playing for fun is good too, but, there’s definitely more of a competitive edge.”
Walters, who graduated from Smith-Cotton in 2011 and teaches Industrial Technology, said he just wants the team to play like winners.
“Of course we want to win,” Walters said. “But the biggest thing is for them to play every point like they’re going to win. To give their all every single point. Winning comes with it.”
And while winning is a key theme for the 2016 Smith-Cotton tennis team, their first-year coach cites a second-place finish at last week’s tournament in Marshall and a competitive 5-4 loss to Osage as highlights.
“We got second place (at Marshall), and we got to take home a plaque,” Walters said. “That was a huge thing for us. Even when I used to play here, I never remember us bringing home a plaque. It was great. Everyone was really excited about that.
“They are pushing for it, and they are becoming aggressive. Not in a bad way, but you have to have that motivation to want to win and want to play well.”
The Tigers host the Smith-Cotton Tournament 9 a.m. Friday at Liberty Park.
SINGLES RESULTS: David Cho defeated Tyler Grimes 8-0, Jacob Hedrick defeated Tate Frost 8-4, Matthew Tilley defeated Jerry Skinner 8-4, Mikhail Husyev defeated Blake Stark 8-1, Ryan Hankins defeated Deven Sexton 8-1 and Keron Irwin defeated Mason Komer 8-1.
DOUBLES: David Cho & Matthew Tilley defeated Tyler Grimes and Tate Frost 8-1, Jacob Hedrick and Mikhail Husyev defeated Mason Komer and Jerry Skinner 8-1 and Ryan Hankins and Keron Irwin defeated Blake Stark and Deven Sexton 8-1.
Alex Agueros can be reached at 660-826-1000, ext. 1483 or on Twitter @abagueros2