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Despite losing four of seven starters from last season, expectations are high around the Anderson County boys’ tennis team.
“I expect we will have our ups and downs this year with young talent, but come regional tournament time, I believe we will be a team that most will not want to face in the early rounds,” says Anderson co-coach Jeremy Cook.
Cook, who is in his sixth year of guiding the Bearcats, has a new partner in first-year teacher-coach T.J. Spivey, who replaces Steven Rucker, now in elementary school administration in Shelby County. Spivey teamed with Aaron Hume in 2005 to win the regional doubles title, still Anderson’s only regional championship in boys’ or girls’ tennis.
Like the coaching staff, the Bearcats look like a team blending experience with some talented newcomers. “We are young, but those young players have a lot of talent that will be with us for the next few years,” Cook says. “We have a lot of 10th-graders this year and most are returning from last year’s team. They have played a lot of tennis this past summer and fall and it shows. I was very happy to see all of the growth that had occurred during the off-season. I knew I had some raw talent and these boys are refining it.”
In the early season, Anderson has shown some punch sweeping matches with Collins and Shelby County, before losing a close one to North Oldham, one of the Eighth Region’s stronger programs, last week. A week earlier, the Bearcats slipped past Frankfort 3-2.
So far this season, the Bearcats’ top doubles’ team of Luke Warford and Lowell Gordon, both juniors, has gone unbeaten. They could be threats to join the Spivey-Hume duo as regional titlists. Top singles player Levi Cox, a senior, has also been impressive early.
“It is very early in the season for me or T.J. To say who is playing what or with whom they might play with,” Cook said two weeks ago. “I will say that we have one problem this year, but it is one that any coach would love to have. Right now we are looking at nine of our 16 boys that could play in any of the singles or doubles matches and the other seven are catching up fast.”
Gordon and Warford, both juniors, have been playing together for several years and will most likely remain a pair through the season. “It takes very good communication between players for a doubles team to be successful,” Spivey says.
Otherwise the Bearcats will likely do some experimenting in the first few matches after spring break then try to settle in to a rotation in preparation for the regional tournament in mid-May. “We are still searching for the best combination of players we can put together for doubles teams,” Spivey says. “We are looking for that now and see some good possibilities.”
Early in the season, the Bearcats have been getting strong big outings from sophomores Ben McDonald, who pulled out a 3-set win over Shelby County’s Mike Karas last week, and Jay Smith. Smith took North Oldham’s Eddy Hernandes to tie-breakers in both sets before losing last week.
Sophomores Ty Glover and Joe Koonce might be finding their niche in doubles after sweeping teams from Collins and Shelby last week. Others battling for a spot in the rotation include Taylor Mynhier and E.J. Miller.
Starters gone from last season include Zack Allen, Tyler Hyatt, Josh Phillips and Austin Hollingsworth.
Anderson is playing a schedule heavy on regional teams, which should give the Bearcats a true feeling of their post-season chances. “There are always schools that are stronger than others,” Spivey says, but all matches are important. The Oldham County schools will be tough as they usually are. As most followers of tennis know, (University of Kentucky star) Eric Quigley was harnessed from that area (South Oldham).
“Franklin County will be tough as well. (Coach) Terry Johnson always does a great job with his players and seems to have a great team every year.”
Spivey is living proof, however, that championships are within reach at Anderson County.
“I have to say that the best addition to this year’s team is Coach Spivey,” Cook says. “He has been great with the boys and they respect him for his knowledge of the game. He knows what it takes to be successful and he works the boys hard so that they may have a chance to be a great team.”
Spivey adds, “The most important advice I can give the team this year is to have fun. Tennis is a very endurance-packed sport and if you’re mad or upset, it’s hard to play well. Having fun and working together will make this year worthwhile.
“I think we have a very good chance this year of being a contender at the region.”