By TOMMY REZAC
St. Joseph Post
The Bishop LeBlond girls' tennis team made history in many ways last fall.
Most notably, the Eagles qualified for state as a team and made it all the way to the semifinal round before falling to Bolivar and coming home in the top four for the first time since 2009.
They were also the first MEC team to go to state in girls' tennis since 2011.
Jackson Gwinn, a professional tennis instructor at Genesis in St. Joseph, was named LeBlond's new tennis coach in January, and even before his first match with his new team, he sees potential throughout.
While he's new on the LeBlond job, Gwinn has already worked with five of the players on his roster at Genesis.
"I see a good amount of talent on our team," Gwinn said. "A lot of good players. I think we'll do really well this year. They're putting in some good effort and some good time on the court. I think we'll have some good success as the season rolls on and as we get into some of our matches."
A native of Nashville, Gwinn competed for one year at DIII Wheaton College, earning a scholarship offer to DI Tennessee State.
He's also a certified tennis professional through the U.S. Professional Tennis Association and the Professional Tennis Registry.
"Tennis is what I live, what I breathe, what I do," Gwinn admitted. "It's what I've been doing since I was 18 and then I moved up here to St. Joe."
LeBlond returns plenty of experience with five seniors, two juniors and two sophomores back from last year. Senior Peyton Netton, a state qualifier in doubles, has high hopes for another deep postseason run.
"I really think our team is going to be really built this year," Netton said. "We've all played together for the most part. Just having the communication and the team work there will, I think, bring us further into the season."
Netton's doubles partner from last year, Libby Weddle, has since graduated, but Libby's younger sister, Emily is back for her sophomore year. Emily became LeBlond's first state singles qualifier in girls' tennis last year since 2008.
While Libby is no longer on the court with her, Emily is grateful for the time she had with her sister last season.
"I just saw (Libby) play throughout the years and it just makes me better," Emily said. "Because, you know, a lot of her mistakes, I can kind of just build on that, even though she's really good. So, I kind of just look at her as a role model."
LeBlond will open its season on Saturday at St. Joseph Central. The match will begin at 10 a.m.
Gwinn has a strong sense of the talent he has with his upperclassmen. As the season goes on, he's hopeful that the younger players and newcomers will grow and make the Eagles a force to be reckoned with again this year.
"I know I have a really good top of the lineup," Gwinn said. "So, I'd really love to see some players lower in the lineup really contribute as well. I think if we do that, then I think we're looking at being one of the better teams in the city and we'll see how state goes. I'm excited."
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