Plainsmen tennis looking to build through spring

Apr. 3—Laramie High tennis coach Elizabeth Clower sees the spring portion of the season as preparation for the fall.

The season runs April 1 to May 4, and the Plainsmen will practice twice per week. During the spring, there are triples and doubles matches, but no singles.

The team also doesn't keep score, according to the coach.

In the fall, the LHS boys totaled 43 team points at the state tournament to best second-place Cheyenne Central (42) and third-place Sheridan (34). The girls were third at 32 points, trailing Central (59) and Kelly Walsh (45).

"We've got so many kids that play softball, soccer, golf and run track," Clower said. "A lot of times, kids come out in the spring to try and have fun. I once had an offensive lineman come out after finishing up all his sports, and (he) now plays for the (University of Wyoming) club team."

Losses to the boys team include No. 1 and 2 singles players Paulo Mellizo and Declan O'Connor, and the state title winning No. 2 doubles team of seniors Carson Krueger and Spencer Killpack.

Missing from the girls are state champion No. 2 doubles partners sophomore Gracie Smith and senior Makeda Proctor, as well as No. 1 doubles pair senior Morgan Moore and sophomore Peyton Thorburn. They are also without No. 1 and 2 singles players senior Mia Wallhead and junior Hannah Peterson.

The Plainsmen had 38 athletes show up to the first day of spring practice, with just four returners from varsity in the fall. The boys No. 1 doubles team of seniors Matthew Pikal and Ryan Dennis provides the most experience for the spring season, followed by doubles alternate junior Eli Coulter and girls doubles alternate sophomore Alenna Moehrke.

Ten of those 38 have never picked up a racket before. Clower hopes that the spring season shows students how fun tennis can be.

Pikal and Dennis will look to run the table in the doubles division after falling 6-3 and 6-2 against Sheridan in the second round of the state tournament last September. Dennis said he feels he and Pikal developed enough chemistry to alleviate the mental aspect of the sport.

"I get in my head extremely easy," Dennis said. "My partner helps me realize that it's OK to make mistakes. We help each other out by telling each other 'so what' if we mess up and get back after it."

Dennis echoes Clower's feelings that it will pay dividends having the bulk of junior varsity players from the fall see a slightly higher level of competition this spring. Despite not knowing or playing with many of them personally, he believes the only way to get better is to take real repetitions in matches, and the spring provides that opportunity.

"They're going to make up the majority of our team next fall," Dennis said. "Even if they are just going to back up the varsity guys next year, I think there's enough talent there to do that and more."

Outside of Coulter, Clower isn't sure who can slide in behind Pikal and Dennis for doubles. With practice for the season starting Monday, she hasn't had time to familiarize herself with many of the newer players just yet.

Moehrke traveled to the state tournament in Gillette with the team. She was thrilled for the opportunity after battling a stiff wrist for the entire season.

"I'm really excited for the chance to show what I can do," Moehrke said. "I didn't really get the chance to until now. It was a lot of fun to be an alternate, and I got to watch our team play a lot of good tennis and win a lot."

Moehrke didn't just learn from the girls team, as she feels inspired by Krueger and Killpack. Much like Moehrke, they didn't start playing until their freshmen seasons.

She has seen the pair struggle to the point of being taken apart as a duo only to build enough chemistry to come back and take the No . 2 doubles state title. Moehrke hopes to show Clower enough this spring to pencil her name in for a spot in the varsity rotation next fall.

"Out here (in spring), she's going to be in the top spot," Clower said. "I can see her with a spot on varsity next year, and she was very close this year."

Overall, Clower's expectations for the spring season are drastically different from the fall. She described the spring as simply getting out to hit tennis balls for a month.

"This is laid back," Dennis said. "We want to win the tournaments, but I think we can measure success by how much fun we're having."

Added Moehrke: "I'm hoping to become a better player so I can contribute for varsity next season. If I do my best, I can't be too mad, regardless of the result."

Both Dennis and Moehrke agreed that one of the biggest drawbacks for the spring season is the weather. A large number of practices will inevitably be canceled, and travel could still be difficult due to high winds.

"The ball can get super hard to follow," Dennis said. "When stuff gets canceled, we just have to sit and wait."

Added Moehrke: "It's pretty drastic, but has its perks. We get to learn how to play in bad weather, and a lot of players don't."

Their first action of the season comes on Friday, as the Plainsmen host Cheyenne Central, Torrington, Natrona County, Green River and Rock Springs. The teams will strictly play triples matches in an attempt to get more athletes playing time.

"We're only here a couple times a week," Clower said. "This is basically, 'Get out and try something you've never done.' I want to pull these kids together as a team.

"This is a great chance for our JV kids to develop their game before summer comes."

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Austin Edmonds covers Laramie High, University of Wyoming and community athletics for WyoSports. He can be reached at Follow him on X at @_austinedmonds.