NORMAN — Beth Lewis had just finished her first year as Norman High girls tennis coach.
Seeking to keep her team together over the summer, she set up some informal practice sessions. And, aware of some eighth graders who might be headed her way, she invited them, too.
Among them were Maggie Marcum, Gabby Schreiner, Grace Anthony and Elizabeth Waters.
Each one of them showed.
“They’re all very driven girls,” Lewis said. “Highly motivated.”
Lewis was speaking Wednesday afternoon at Westwood Tennis Center, where Marcum, Schreiner, Anthony and Waters were practicing for the Class 6A state tournament, which begins Friday morning at Will Rogers Tennis Center in Oklahoma City.
A year ago, when Marcum and Kathryn Phillips, both freshmen, advanced to the state tournament, it was big news. Nobody could remember the last time the NHS girls had two entries in the state tournament.
Since, Phillips and her family have moved to Florida. Nonetheless, a year later, the Tigers are sending an even bigger contingent to the state tourney: Marcum at No. 1 singles; Schreiner at No. 2 singles; Anthony and Waters at No. 1 doubles.
They earned their way Monday, at the Class 6A regional at Kickingbird, in Edmond, where Marcum finished fourth, Schreiner third, and Anthony and Waters second.
“It was definitely a goal for our team to have so many people going to state,” Marcum said. “It’s something we talked about all season.”
Anthony and Waters may have had the most interesting road on Monday, having to go through a Bishop McGuinness tandem they had upset only the week before.
“They thought we were cheating,” Anthony said.
“They told us we were an embarrassment to our school,” Waters said. “They called a line judge over on us.”
In prep tennis, players, typically, call their own lines. Apparently, the Irish should have been careful for what they wished for. Because maybe it wasn’t Anthony and Waters who were struggling to call their lines correctly.
“It actually helped,” Anthony said.
The week before, NHS had prevailed in a tiebreaker. At Kickingbird, the Tigers beat their Irish counterparts 6-2, 6-3.
“They didn’t begin playing together until after spring break,” Lewis said. “They have both come a long way. To finish second (at regionals) was beyond my dreams.”
Lewis believes the key to her singles players has been a new consistency.
Marcum reached state last season at No. 2 singles. Now, at No. 1, she’s back. Schreiner was playing doubles last season, but being by herself appears to suit her.
“I just feel like I’ve finally gotten used to it,” Schreiner said. “I’m not making as many silly mistakes.”
Marcum believes she’s thinking better and in a more disciplined way on the court.
“I’m working on my mental game,” she said. “Don’t get frustrated. Have a game plan. I’ve improved in those areas.”
The players give Lewis credit for keeping them motivated and in better condition than their opponents.
“A lot of suicides, a lot of pushups and sit-ups, wall-sits, laps and jumping rope,” Schreiner said.
“I’ve won matches because of that,” Marcum said. “Like in your fourth match (of the day) or in the third set.”
The state tournament usually represents the end of something. Like the season, and sometimes a competitive career. For the Tigers, it’s still the end of the season, yet it feels more like a beginning. Because the entire state tourney contingent will be back next season, and the one after that.
“Seeing how far they’ve come since the eighth grade,” Lewis said, “I just think they can still improve a lot more.”
Being young and getting better can be a heady thing. Even more so when it begins to get noticed.
“They put it on the intercom,” Schreiner said of the Tigers’ regional fortunes.
“And then people were congratulating me on making state,” Marcum said.
“‘Ah, tennis, good job,’” Anthony said, repeating the well-wishers’ words. “You feel like you’re part of the school.”
Clay Horning 366-3526 firstname.lastname@example.org