By Rob Kiser
What a difference three years makes.
When Kyla Starrett took over the Piqua girls tennis program three years ago, the Lady Indians had to forfeit third singles in a number of matches.
Three years later, they have gone from not filling the courts to having 20 girls on the roster and took a five-game winning streak into Wednesday’s match with Bellefontaine.
“Really, it is a credit to the girls,” Starrett, who with the assistance of Bonnie Davis has seen the rise in the program. “A lot of times they want to work more than we do.”
Starrett began to see things change a year ago.
“First, we haven’t lost many girls since my first year,” Starrett said. “And one thing about these girls. When, they are in a match against a better player. They are not thinking about the score. They are thinking what can I learn today.”
The starting lineup includes juniors Alexa Knorr-Sullivan, Skylar Cain, Grace Ryan and Rikki Ramirez; sophomores Alexis Gastelu and Cassie Arnett and freshman Izzy King.
The JVs include juniors Sache Marks and Madison Beaver; sophomores Chloe Barnes, Mattyson Dempsey, Oakley Gilmore, Alica Elliott, Courtney Elliott, Kylie Weber, Paige Stumpff and Shawna Gill; and freshman Madelynn Fisher and Lauren Hicks.
“I really think it (the increased numbers) is them honoring what we tell them,” Starrett said. “And the girls are asking the right questions when things go awry out there.”
During the win streak the doubles teams of Arnett and Cain and Ryan and Ramirez have been rolling through the competition and Tuesday’s 3-2 win over Stebbins was no exception.
Arnett and Cain won 6-4, 6-1; and Ryan and Ramirez won 6-3, 6-4.
“Those girls rock,” Starrett said. “A lot of times athletes fall back on doing what they are comfortable with. We are trying to get them to push past that and they are listening to us.”
That left Piqua needing one win in the singles match. Gastelu lost 6-1, 6-1 at third singles; while Knorr-Sullivan at first singles and King at second singles battled for more than two hours in the hear.
Knorr-Sullivan was able to gut out a 7-6 (7-5), 6-4 win for the deciding point, while King had a strong rally in the second set before losing 6-2, 7-5.
“Lexi (Alexa Knorr-Sullivan) has done that before,” Starrett said. “She is always battling. Even when she loses, a number of her matches go to the third set.”
And, while the future is bright, Starrett admits the end of next season will be a tough one for her.
“We don’t have any seniors this year,” she said. “Next year will be a really good year, but it will be a tough one. Saying goodbye to girls who have been in the program with me since I started.”
And have put the work in to reverse the fortunes of the Piqua girls tennis program.
Rob Kiser is Sports Editor for the Daily Call. He can be reached at (937) 451-3334.