Tennis players look ahead

Olivia Hackman thought Brownstown Central’s girls tennis team had something special going. With six seniors, the Braves were thinking big for the 2020 season.

And then they were not thinking about much at all because COVID-19 wiped out the last portion of the school year in classrooms and eliminated Indiana’s spring sports seasons. No tennis. No anything.

“We were supposed to have a good year,” Hackman said. “I was looking forward to this season.”

For good reason. Hackman, the No. 1 singles player, was the defending sectional champ and she was surrounded by experienced teammates. Abbie Reynolds, Riley Roberts, Rachel Adkins, Carly Brown and Maggie Hogan provided the type of seasoned depth that can produce championships.

“I feel like we could have won sectionals,” Hackman said. “We could have come close.”

Instead, the seniors complete their high school years empty-handed. It was the equivalent of everyone having a season-ending injury, though in this case, the season had the injury, stifled by the cornonavirus.

Senior is supposed to provide lifetime memories as a bridge from public school to adulthood. When Hackman says, “We’ll all remember,” she is really referring to memories lost. Surely, anyone living through the abnormality of finishing up high school through on-line learning and having an entire sports season wiped out, will find that unforgettable.

“Pretty much,” Hackman said.

Braves teammate Abbie Reynolds said the team began spring practice with the main unifying goal of capturing the sectionals team title. Reynolds was locked in at No. 2 doubles, her preferred location in the lineup and said the squad was hungry and was ready to peak for a senior year that would leave an imprint.

While many players aspire to compete in singles, Reynolds said she is happy in a doubles role, enjoying working with a partner.

“I like doubles better,” she said. “It’s a lot easier to cover the court. They’ve (a teammate) got your back.”

As the virus spread internationally and took root in the United States, students hoped they would be able to resume regular activities with only a minor interruption, first over spring break and then through April. As things became more ominous, with more Americans getting sick and dying, Reynolds kept her eye on developments with the hope the Indiana High School Athletics Association would sanction a short season.

“I’d kind of been tracking it online just to see what was happening,” she said.

Then Reynolds and other players received a text message from coach Eric Stangland alerting them it was a no-go.

“I was disappointed,” she said. “I had still been hoping. We all worked so hard. We didn’t know it would end like this.”

Reynolds took up tennis in the sixth grade and fell in love with the sport and this group of seniors had played together for six years. There was a close team bond among the Braves. During this stay-at-home ordered hiatus there have been group chats online. Friendships were sticking even without the games.

“They’re definitely what I’ll miss most,” Reynolds said.

Reynolds, 18, will be making some major life moves soon after graduation. She has signed up for the Army Reserve, starting in June and continuing into December before beginning college at Purdue in January. The Reserves is a family thing.

“They always said it was one of the greatest things they did in their lives,” Reynolds said.

She is headed to Fort Jackson in Eastover, South Carolina.

“I know it’s going to be hot and humid,” Reynolds said.

She will not attempt to play varsity tennis at Purdue, but hopes to keep playing the game in an intramural program.

Seymour’s team was also a veteran-heavy group with seniors Kennedy Cockerham, Peyton Levine, Maggie Newkirk and Lakon Waskom.

Any senior, athlete or not, has more in common with others of the age group than ever before, but while students can make progress in their classes from home, athletes lost out in irreplaceable fashion.

“It did hurt,” Levine said of her senior season vanishing. “I was really looking forward to being a leader. I really wanted the team to do well.”

Even though a good crowd of seniors was returning to play, Levine said she felt the lineup was not set in stone, but would have been worked out by head-to-head challenges in workouts.

“I wanted to be No. 1 singles,” Levine said. “It definitely would have been close.”

She played No. 2 singles and won sectionals last year. As they progress through high school or college, all athletes believe they can improve each year as they mature.

“I was really wanting to play,” Levine said.

Levine said she comes from a family of tennis players. But during various school years she also competed for the Owls in volleyball and golf, as well. Levine’s college plan calls for studying elementary education at Ball State, but only playing tennis in intramurals if it is available.

By March, she knew the growing pandemic could take out her final competitive season this spring. She paid attention to the world around her, but hoped the situation would not deteriorate to the point where tennis play would be wiped out.

“I knew there was a lot of talk this might affect our season,” Levine said.

Then a text came from coach Tapanga Burgess sealing the deal. No tennis season.

Trinity Lutheran senior Cassidy Burnside said Cougar players took the attitude of “Maybe it will happen some day” into spring break. The concept of cramming a short season into the last three weeks of May and the beginning of June evaporated quickly, however.

“For sure, it’s more than the season I’m missing out on,” Burnside said. “It’s my teammates, too. It’s not the same.”

Wrapped around her e-learning, Burnside has been spending considerable time helping out on the family farm, which raises corn, soybeans and wheat.

She began investigating Auburn University in Alabama for its ag business study program and became enamored with the palce even though she plans to change majors.

Burnside won’t play intercollegiate tennis, but will be on the search for a club program or intramurals.

“I’m sure I will,” she said.

Hackman, who plans to attend Indiana University and also play club or intramural tennis, said when life calms down again and the Brownstown players can congregate again without fear of virus transmission they will throw on their uniforms one last time.

“Once it’s all over,” Hackman said, “we’ll get together and have one last get-together. “We’re going to have a senior night.”

Brownstown: Rachel Adkins, Carly Brown, Olivia Hackman, Maggie Hogan, Abbie Reynolds, Riley Roberts.

Seymour: Kennedy Cockerham, Peyton Levine, Maggie Newkirk.

Trinity: Cassidy Burnside, Abby Lemming.