Republished from the Columbia Missourian
COLUMBIA — When last call for track and field participants boomed from the Battle High School public address system Thursday, Xavion Bryant and Isaiah Irwin didn’t go to the starting line.
They were on the tennis courts.
Battle was in the middle of a match against Fr. Tolton Regional Catholic High School, but Bryant and Irwin weren’t a part of it. They were practicing.
Bryant and Irwin switched from track to tennis, because it looked fun. Once they complete enough practices, they along with a third newcomer to the Battle tennis team will double the team’s size to six boys.
“We’re not having a rebuilding year,” Battle coach Andrew Materer said. “We’re having a building year.”
As the newest two high schools in Columbia, the Battle and Tolton tennis programs are early in their development.
There are 13 players on Tolton’s team — five boys and eight girls.
“It’s not really a big deal,” Tolton coach Nancy Parker said of having a coed team.
Tolton’s had a coed tennis team for all three years of its existence. Many of the girls play volleyball in the fall, so they can’t field a girls tennis squad during the girls tennis season. Instead, they join the boys team.
“It keeps it interesting,” Tolton junior Laura Richardson said. “One of the guys is funny, and he kind of leads us.”
“Yeah, he’s right there,” Emily Temple gestured.
Joe Fulca, the guy, was on the court behind her, dodging tennis balls with a blue Powerade in his hand instead of a racket.
“Good example,” Temple said.
Fulca has played tennis for 10 years. He doesn’t mind having a coed team.
“They always act all confident going in,” Fulca said of opponents’ boys facing Tolton’s girls. “It’s nice to see the look on their faces when we win.”
The match between Battle and Tolton was an exhibition, because Battle didn’t yet have its six players. The match included a doubles pairing that was three-parts-Tolton, one-part-Battle.
“You don’t want everyone standing around not doing anything,” said Materer, who previously coached Hickman High School tennis.
Once Bryant and Irwin finished practicing, they sat on the bleachers to watch their teammates in the exhibition.
What’s the hardest part about their new sport?
“For me, serving,” Bryant said.
“I would say serving or — yeah, it’s serving,” Irwin said.
They’ve been staying two hours after practice to get in extra work.
Though it was an exhibition, the Battle players had something on the line with their coach. Materer would do 10 pushups for every game his team won.
Battle lost its first three exhibitions of the season.
“We’ve been crushed,” said Battle’s Duncan Galen, a sophomore who joined the tennis team to play a sport once basketball ended.
The Trailblazers won their first match 9-0 against a coed Columbia Independent School team. Their goal is to improve at districts, where they play different schools from the regular season.
“I’m thinking we’re gonna get a little bit farther this year,” Parker said.
Tolton practices at Cosmo-Bethel Park. Parker wishes local junior highs had tennis programs.
“If we had a junior high program, we would have a lot stronger high school program,” Parker said.
Materer hopes his team’s pristine 3-year-old courts will attract young athletes to the Battle tennis team, especially from local elementary schools. He wants full 14-player boys and girls rosters.
But for now, Battle has three boys. Six soon.
In the end, Tolton won 3-2. But it’s not all bad for Battle’s players.
Materer had to do 130 pushups.
Original: http://www.columbiamissourian.com/a/173583/battle-tolton-build-tennis-teams-from-ground-up/ (with paywall)