Injuries aside, NW tennis ready to compete
When Shawnee Mission Northwest head tennis coach Ken Clow saw the graduation of 10 seniors from his girls tennis program last season, he didn't panic.
Clow had his top six players returning for 2008 and a heady group of freshmen waiting in the wings. The next season was ready for a smooth transition.
Then came the summer of 2008.
First, Clow got word of one of his top 10 returnees deciding to give the Northwest fall theatrical production a try, thus eliminating her eligibility for tennis. Soon after that, Clow heard the news that one of his top five returning players had torn her anterior cruciate ligament playing soccer the week before school started. In addition, the latter player's sister, herself a top-10 player for the Cougars, had undergone her fourth back surgery during the summer also eliminating her for the season.
Yet Clow remained undaunted. His top four singles players remained, as did his number one doubles team; and who knew what the 2008-09 freshmen class held?
In fact, Clow looked at the situation with optimism for the future of the program.
"We'll have two pretty good returning players for us next year who will have a whole year off," said Clow.
As it turns out, this year's freshman class yielded a player who might help offset the loss to injury of two of the team's best players.
Mary Slattery, a member of the class of 2012, has quickly worked herself up to the third spot on the singles ladder for the Cougars. In Slattery, Clow has found a rare freshman player with an attacking nature on the court. Indeed, Slattery's ferocity on the court is somewhat disguised by her diminutive stature. The Northwest freshman checks in at just under 5 feet tall, according to her coach.
"However," Clow said. "She's very quick and she has good topspin. In practice, when I challenged her at the net, she didn't back down. It's nice to find a freshman like that."
Slattery will play behind the Cougars' top returning player, senior Alex Crowe. Crowe will return to the number one spot she played masterfully last season and figures to be one of the Sunflower League's most feared players. Crowe will utilize her power game to try to erase memories of a 2007 that ended when injuries in the postseason kept her from earning her way to state after a successful regular-season campaign.
Other top returners for Northwest include senior number two singles player Amanda Boring, who will team with fellow senior Cassie Slocum to form the Cougars' number one doubles team. Senior Bailey Hand comes back at the number four slot while sophomore Ann Miller claimed the number six position after playing the number five spot at last year's district championships.
Slattery's fellow freshman, Ann Brauer, currently resides at the number seven spot and appears ready to challenge throughout the season for a top six entry into Cougar tournaments.
Despite the incoming talents of Slattery and Brauer and the return of the dominant Crowe, Clow recognizes losses to graduation and injury have taken somewhat of a toll on the team. Out of an expected 28 athletes at tryouts, only 22 were healthy enough to take part, with only four of them freshmen. What that means for Clow is that there are plenty of untested entities at singles numbers 8 through 20.
"We're going to have to have a top 6 play at every quad whereas last year we might have taken our top 12 girls," stated Clow. "We just don't have quite the depth we had last year. Still, I think we're going to be maybe a little bit better than I thought we'd be, given that we'd lost 10 seniors."