Strong Out the Gates By: Damon Wright
There is just something about spring time that gets everybody in a good mood. Whether it be the changing of the weather, the exciting feeling of spring break, or even all the midterms we will all do great on (okay, maybe not those). One thing is for certain though: Choctaw spring sports have started, and they have started hot. The baseball team is currently 10-2, the softball team is currently on a two-game winning streak, and the men’s and women’s tennis teams are off to 4-2 and 7-0 respectively.
The tennis team’s strong start can be attributed to the strong play of senior leaders on the teams, strong recruiting classes, and improvements from both 2017 squads. On the men’s side, senior captain Sanders Barrick talks about the mental fortitude of the team that has carried them throughout this hot start: “It’s more mentally, we have a bunch of seniors on our team; we have the skills and the seniors and just mentally being prepared and going out on the court and thinking we can win the match every time we are out there is a big thing for us,” said Barrick.
The GSC is strong in tennis, holding three nationally ranked teams in West Florida (#1), Valdosta State (#5), and Auburn-Montgomery (#22), but Barrick’s expectations and goals remain high: “We have a great conference in tennis and I think making it to the semifinals or finals in the conference would be a great achievement, and finishing third would be perfect … I think if we are third in the region we can make it to regionals.” Barrick, one of seven seniors on the team, has set selfless goals for himself and looks to leave behind an unforgettable legacy: “I just want to be a good leader for my team and I only play doubles so just winning every doubles match and getting that point for my team is a big goal for me … just making it to regionals would be a big stepping stone or even being ranked would be great legacy to leave on the tennis program,” said Barrick.
The women’s tennis team is off to an incredible 7-0 start to the season, including two wins over conference foes West Georgia and West Alabama. The Lady Choctaws have not only won, but relatively dominated their opponents, beating four teams by 9-0. Senior Brenna Keller commented on the team’s strong start to the season: “Our work ethic this season and practices on and off court has been a lot better and we have recruited a couple of new girls for this season and their added level of play has definitely helped increase our line up in general and we are all excited and confident and our first few wins just added confidence,” said Keller.
There are very few missteps for the Lady Choctaws, but Keller harkened on one small improvement that she would like to see across the team: “Comradery on our team, I think we are super close but we need to work on our cheering off court and working with our teammates … making sure every one is pumped up during matches and maybe getting a little more excited during the match,” Keller said.
Though the team is off to such a hot start, Keller knows that it is important to not get complacent, especially as conference play begins: “The work ethic off court is most important, we can’t let ourselves slack off, we have to keep the confidence and work ethic up, and keep everything up in practice and hopefully relay that to wins on court,” said Keller.
This year’s women’s tennis team boasts a bevy of talent, including five seniors who have made large strides since their first season at MC. Keller knows this strong bond and chemistry makes things on the court a whole lot easier for the team, especially with her doubles partner, Anna Marie Kimball: “We are both from Louisiana, so we knew each other a little before this. She is super fun to play with and is always pumped up for our matches and very consistent … we are all pretty tightknit; we go out to eat a lot, hang out, and go to movies and on the court, we just want each other to be successful and that really builds confidence,” The growth of the team from day one has been evident, and Keller believes she, along with the senior class, have left a legacy that can be built upon for the future: “I feel like we have grown as players and people and I feel like we would just like to leave a team that continues to get stronger and I would like to see them win just more and more,” Keller said.
It all starts from the top when it comes to both tennis teams. Coach Boteler, who has been at the helm for the Choctaws for twenty-one years, is respected by both squads and leaves a lasting impact on all his players: “Coach Boteler is definitely one of the greatest guys I have ever met in my life … he is the nicest coach I have ever met, probably the nicest coach on the campus; he is so understanding and has his priorities … if anybody has any issues, he is the first to step up and help … he has also helped a lot of people spiritually and overall he has had a great impact on everybody on this team,” says Keller.
Men’s captain Sanders Barrick also adds a little about Boteler: “He is the nicest man you will ever meet … he is just like a father or brother to everyone and is everything you need …. I remember walking into his office the first day and him hugging me and treating me especially kind and wanting to know who I was, and he does that to every player that walks in here.”
Both men’s and women’s teams hosted West Alabama last Wednesday. The men fell short to West Alabama, 4-5, while the women’s team extended their streak to seven wins by beating the Lions, 6-4. Both teams look to jump up in the rankings as conference play begins to ramp up.