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Horns Tennis prepares for challenging season

Front Row (L-R): Siera Hodge, Eden Potter, Faith Dowell, Kaylee Williams, Ashlee Williams, Hailey Rider. Back Row (L-R): Grinnan Walker,Omar Linares, Noah Nelson, Taylor Parsons, Ryleigh Icenhour, Rhiannon Icenhour, Kaydance Ward. Not pictured: Olivia Cox, Taylor Cox, Lauren Paterson, Dalton Sluder, Adam Manuel, Wyatt Decker, Clayton Eckhart. Photo by Joey Icenhour

By Tim Chambers

Most successful high school tennis programs have a few marquee players and thus is the case with the Johnson County Longhorns. The team is coming off two state tournament appearances in doubles with the likes of
Taylor and Olivia Cox and could via for another one with Dalton Sluder and Will Henson returning on the boys’ side.
Head coach Zack Pittman returns for this third season and has tasted lots of success since taking over the program two seasons ago. He feels like this year could be a mixed bag with all the weather elements and things going on.
“I am not sure what to expect this year,” said Pittman. “We lost two fantastic seniors from last year’s squad. Mason Stanley accomplished more individually than any men’s player has at Johnson County in quite some time, and Noah Cox was a beast at doubles, who made any partner better. Their skills will be missed, but their leadership will be missed the most, as both players spent time on and off the court, improving the team.”
“The cupboard is not bare on the boys’ side for Johnson County. A mix of good players returns that will make the Horns a well-rounded program that will be respected by their league foes.
“Noah Nelson, Dalton Sluder, and Will Henson are all seniors this year who have a lot of experience, and Adam Manuel joined the team late last year as a junior and improved dramatically by season’s end,” added Pittman. “The real question this year is going to be if all of those players can step up and play at a higher level than they have had to in the past. Fingers crossed, we will find some young talent to fill in our bottom two slots. Many team matches are determined by the 5-6/3rd doubles matches.”
High expectations once again lay in the hands of the Cox sisters Taylor and Olivia. The team returns nearly everyone off of last year’s squad, including the twins who have been to the state tournament over the past two seasons. Also returning is Taylor Parsons, who just missed out last year in the single’s competition. Pittman is excited about his team’s chances.
“Our ladies team accomplished big things last year with only one senior, Margaret Morrow,” added Pittman. “We won our region, and we were one set away from going to the State. Once again, we had a lot of individual success, as well. Taylor and Olivia Cox made it to the State in doubles for the 2nd consecutive year, and Taylor won player of the year for our conference.
Pittman is looking forward to another successful season with the likes of so many returning players but must fill a couple of slots.
“We only had one senior, but we also had a key member move over the summer, so we will have to fill those two slots,” added Pittman. “I expect big things once again from Taylor, but think the difference that could push us over the top this year and into State is going to be our 2-4 slots. Olivia Cox, Taylor Parsons, and Rhiannon Icenhour all have the potential to be very good tennis players. The talent and determination are there, and if they can just have the on-court confidence I see in practice during a match, then we are going to be a tough out for any competitor.
The Longhorns have a core of senior players that
will likely make them a favorite among their conference foes.
“With all the senior leadership I have this year, I am expecting to have to do little in the way of motivation,” said Pittman. “They know what is at stake. My biggest change this year is going to be to introduce more fun to practice while simultaneously work on conditioning. Regular season matches, which are only one set and played in colder weather, do not require a very high level of stamina, but once you get to the playoffs and you are playing best of 3 matches, and the heat becomes a factor it is a different story. God has blessed me not only with fantastic talent, but wonderful young men/women to coach since I took over two years ago, and I am beyond thankful that I get another year with these student-athletes.