On Thursday, high school sports will finally return to Parsons.
The Parsons Vikings girls tennis program, helmed by a new head coach for the first time in 18 years, will host a season-opening meet at Forest Park.
Three players who made the KSHSAA 4A State Tournament a year ago return to the Vikings’ team this fall, including singles league and regional champion Gracen Friess. That sets the stage for Tyler Beardmore, who is taking over for the legendary Jane Posch as the team’s coach.
Beardmore, who played for Posch and served as her assistant, wants to preserve continuity within the program.
“All the girls we have already had her this summer or before that,” Beardmore said. “They all know the standards she had. There’s not much of a disruption having me step in. I think it’s been pretty consistent. I don’t think the girls think much differently of it.”
Parsons has seven players in total — Friess, Lauren Farris, Jaidyn Shultz, Cait Chalker, Anna Prazakova, Jazzy Palmer and Sydney Schibi. Friess, Farris and Shultz made state last year while Chalker is the only other varsity returner.
“Getting those three back to state is a given,” Beardmore said. “As far as the others, it’ll depend on what our lineup will be. Cait has a year of experience, so we’ll see where she fits. The rest of the girls haven’t ever played. So it’s early. I think we could possibly get another group to state this year.”
Entering her senior year, Friess has her sights set on a run towards a state championship. Friess took 11th at state last year despite entering the tournament with one of the four top seeds as a regional champion.
“One big thing was that her backhand last year was the weakest part of her game,” Beardmore said. “She’s worked on that a lot over the summer. It’s almost right up there with her forehand now. She can step on the court knowing that she can have that backhand every single point. When you go to state, they see the weaknesses in your game and there was nothing she could do.”
With her backhand catching up to the rest of her game, Friess has become a more complete player.
“She gives 100% every single point,” Beardmore said. “Her forehand is pretty powerful. She’s competitive. That comes from her dad. She’s got that Kurt Friess competitiveness. You don’t see that very often.”
Farris and Shultz will return as a doubles pairing this fall after falling one win short of a medal at state a year ago.
“I expect them to get back to state,” Beardmore said. “It was their first time playing No. 1 doubles last year and it took them about three-fourths of the season to adjust to it. They’re ready for it now on Day 1. They were one win away from placing at state. So getting them to place this year would be nice and that’s what they’re wanting.”
As for Chalker, she’ll line up as the No. 2 singles player behind Friess to start the campaign.
“She’s improved her ground strokes a lot,” Beardmore said. “She’s really getting there. She improved so much last year and was giving players better than her tougher matches.”
While Posch’s legacy on the surface is defined by her league championships and state medalists, her true talent was her ability to turn a player with no experience playing tennis into a capable varsity player within one season.
That’s the true test ahead of Beardmore.
“I’ve talked about this with a lot of people,” Beardmore said. “Jane had a special gift that takes time. I can’t do it to that level right now. I’m not there yet. Last year, we had three brand new girls and they were working daily on fundamentals. They got sick of it, but that’s still what we’re doing.”
Tennis is regarded as one of the safest sports to play during the COVID-19 pandemic. There’s virtually no contact with opposing players, while health guidelines this year include players using their own balls to serve and constant social distancing.
“At practice, we’re requiring them to wear a mask when they’re close together,” Beardmore said. “It’s a requirement at a meet if they’re not on the court playing. That’s for all the fans and players and coaches too. We’re encouraging them to be smarter outside of school. Limit traveling out of town, stuff like that. If they want a season, they’ve got to be smart. Some of it is in their hands.”
Thursday’s home opener for Parsons tennis represents the first time any of the school’s athletic programs will compete since the boys basketball team was upset by Rose Hill in the first round of the state tournament on March 12. The state tournament was suspended hours later and all spring sports were canceled by the pandemic.
“I’ve honestly been busy planning how we’re going to operate the meet,” Beardmore said. “This is the first we’re going to have for every school that’s coming. So I haven’t really thought about it as far as what it means to bring sports back. I’m just focused on getting there.”
Beardmore has his vision for how the fall will play out with the chief goal being preserving the legacy Posch left behind.
“I look to continue a lot of the stuff Jane has done,” Beardmore said. “I don’t intend to change anything. She’s had success and you don’t fix what’s not broken. As far as results, I want to get the three that went to state last year back. For Gracen, top eight is pretty generous but I want higher than that. We still don’t know our lineup, but I want to see improvement every day.”