WILLCOX — “I believe that this team has a shot at going to state,” is a statement not uttered very often by a Willcox Cowboy tennis coach, but John Chapman said it here in the preseason and for good reason.
Despite not qualifying a single player for the postseason last year, and despite never qualifying a team for state since 2005, Chapman may have a few individuals go this year and could even have the boys team make the separate tournament for top teams.
The new commitment of junior Luke Kauffman, a home-schooled state-ranked individual club player, will lead the charge.
“He’s a great guy who said he wants to help in any way he can,” Chapman said. “He’s a real talent and plays down at Reffkin tennis center in Tucson, where better players go to improve their skills.”
Luke’s father, Mike Kauffman, will volunteer assist Chapman as a talented teacher of the game who guided Luke to elite status. Ed Folks will also assist as the adults will have 25 kids to work with on the courts this season.
“Some of the other boys have gone to summer tennis camps and have worked really hard to better themselves,” the coach said.
The girls lost two senior starters, Abby Bull and Allison Melton, who advanced into the third round of state doubles last year. Chapman hopes he can find another good combination coming out of the ranks of returning starters like junior Sydney Hansen and sophomores Jodi Denny and Kamrielle Wyatt.
Volleyball athletes like sophomore Sadie Todd and freshman Kennedy Peterson will compete with returning junior Jada Reynolds for some of the open varsity slots, while track athlete Khezia Perolino also wants to be in the mix.
The high hopes for the boys rest on more than Kauffman, as sophomore Hunter Childers, “a natural,” leads an experienced returning group that includes junior Marcus Barba, seniors Nicolas Ortiz and Jeremy Nieto and sophomore Ryan McClaine, who impressed the coach with his off-season work at a Thatcher summer camp.
“Both squads have done an excellent job of recruiting new players,” Chapman noted. “Five of the 16 boys are brand new to the game and five of the nine girls are new to the game as well.”