Greenwood tennis story April 6

One of the more intriguing local sports stories of the spring has to be that of the Greenwood Community High School girls tennis team.

The status as one of the state’s leading programs for the past three years has been undeniable. The squad under coach Steve Gantz won three consecutive semistate titles in the IHSAA state tournament, bowing out in the state quarterfinals in each of those seasons.

Spearheaded by the prolific sister duo of Jackie and Jade Kawamoto, the Woodmen were a force in team competition. As singles, Jackie Kawamoto won the IHSAA singles championship as a junior, and Jade Kawamoto lost in the final as a senior in 2014.

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But with the sisters gone all eyes will be on Greenwood’s roster as the team works to sustain its legacy as a leading program.

New coach Jeremy Runge is optimistic that his team will be able to compete at a high level but recognizes the sister tandem will be hard to replace.

“I expect us to be competitive, but it is understandable if there will be a little drop off in respect to having lost a couple of state players,” Runge said. “I’m not familiar with the area, but I would love to win a sectional and regional title.

“Realistically I can’t say what will happen. I’ve liked what I’ve seen from our team so far, but of course it will all depend on how we play.”

The math indicates that the Kawamotos, now playing collegiately at the University of Dayton, faithfully provided two-thirds of the points needed to win team matches and advance in tournament play. The pair were virtual locks to do that all the way up to the state finals level.

Runge is not ready to name his starting varsity lineup, but both the coach and some of his more veteran returning players hinted that freshmen Maddie Bright and Alyssa Roscoe are going to be key performers for the Woodmen as they attempt to replace the missing points and maintain the legacy.

But the slate was wiped clean when spring practice began. Runge required each player on the squad to earn her place in the varsity lineup.

Runge, who just began this year at the school as a social studies teacher after graduating from the University of Indianapolis, said the squad members are eager to make their own mark.

“They are excited about the opportunity to fill their shoes, but they are also a little nervous because those kids were so talented and successful,” he said.

Runge said he thinks the team has a very even spread of talent, with not a whole lot of drop-off from the top to the bottom of the roster. That helps foster competition for varsity spots but is tough for him as a coach when he decides what the lineup will be.

In addition to Bright and Roscoe, seniors Nike Novak and Amber Marks, juniors Sadie Brooks, Joanna Moran, Abby Chatham and Ally Newman, and sophomore Molly Jacobs provide varsity experience.

“It’s great to have that experience from that core group, and I’m hoping that can rub off on the younger players as they get started,” Runge said.

Newman is a talented doubles player who is optimistic about what she’s seen thus far from this year’s version of Greenwood tennis. She said she thinks the team can do well if it develops closeness similar to last year’s group.

“We seem to be strong. The players are dedicated to practicing and trying our hardest, and getting better every day,” she said. “We can be a strong team and we feel we will push through.

“We might not be as strong as last year right away, but we will still be super strong and carry on the tradition.”