When the Smith-Cotton girl’s tennis team fell Tuesday in a 6-1 match to Lebanon in the Missouri Class 2, District 9 tournament, the door closed on the Lady Tigers’ season.
Individual districts are Saturday, Oct. 1 in Jefferson City. Rachael Meyer and Allison Burton were the lone doubles victory Tuesday.
In 2016, the team continued its program-turnaround with second-year head coach Christine Ross. The Lady Tigers won a district tournament match for the second straight season, and added seven more team victories along the way.
Allison Burton said she and her doubles partner, Rachael Meyer, were so good this season, they often exercised patience against teams they were going to beat.
“We learned to play off the points and not rush and try and get it over with because we knew we could win,” Burton said.
The record book suggests the Smith-Cotton girls tennis revival was sudden. And while both S-C tennis programs have enjoyed near worst-to-first seasons in conference, players like Burton and Meyer understand the Lady Tigers’ improvement was not an overnight phenomenon.
“I was out here almost every day over the summer on the courts,” Meyer said. “I just brought a friend out. I rallied with them. I just wanted to hit as much as I could over the summer.”
Last season, Meyer was No. 6 player for Smith-Cotton as a junior. She was Googling potential colleges during Derrick Hanson’s pre calculus class when she landed on Johnson & Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island.
It was perfect. She wants to bake, but does not wish to attend a culinary-exclusive college. Universities like that are rare, she said.
“I found (Johnson & Wales) and totally just fell in love with the whole idea of it,” Meyer said. “My dad wants me to go College of the Ozarks in Branson. When I told them Rhode Island, they were like, ‘What? That’s pretty far away Rachael. You know that?’ Right now, I’m trying to work my butt off for a tennis scholarship.
“It was luck that I found it. And now, all my goals this year have been towards that.”
On days Ross did not schedule open court dates for the team, Meyer would ask just about anyone to rally with her at Liberty Park in Sedalia.
Meyer would practice with everyone from Burton, to teammate and Smith-Cotton’s No. 1 Elizabeth Matz to her mother.
“I took my mom a couple times,” Meyer said. “She’s always there for me, and she wanted to do anything she could to get me ready for it. So whenever someone couldn’t come out, she would come out with me.”
She admits some partners were better than others.
“I had a couple ex-boyfriends that came out, but they all sucked,” Meyer said. “I had some ex-boyfriends that were just really bad. It was good practice to like, hit them really hard.”
Burton said that with practices beginning Aug. 1, conditioning didn’t cease after June and July.
“We had open courts maybe twice or three times a week, and once normal practices started we were here every day,” Burton said. “Towards the end of summer, it was just tennis, tennis, tennis.”
Without a cross-country college tennis program to point towards, Burton offered another reason for offseason conditioning.
“I wanted to do my part in helping towards a team win, and go farther than we have in the past,” Burton said. “I want to see other victories. I felt like it would be good memories.”
In 2012, the last time Smith-Cotton finished with an above-.500 record, Camdenton dispatched the Lady Tigers from the district tournament. Four years later at Liberty Park, Meyer finished a 6-0, 6-1 match victory over Adriana Verlarde to complete the Smith-Cotton tournament victory and effectively suspend every game on the court.
It ends a chapter that started not with tennis season, but in the dog days of June and July with friends, teammates and family at the Liberty Park courts.
Alex Agueros can be reached at 660-826-1000, ext. 1483 or on Twitter @abagueros2