By TOMMY REZAC
St. Joseph Post
SAVANNAH - To say that the Savannah boys' tennis team is off and running may be a bit of an understatement.
The Savages (9-0) have taken off like a rocket so far in 2021, going undefeated in every head-to-head contest and scoring multiple gold medals in both the Cameron and Lafayette tournaments.
After having their season stripped away last spring, first-year head coach Wakefield Hare says his group has taken a mature approach this season, and are not taking any moment, or any point, for granted.
"When all points are taken from them like last year," Hare said, "I think it helps them focus in. Like, 'Hey. I don't know how many points I have left. Therefore, I'm going to make the most of this point.' And I think if a kid is thinking big enough, he can soak in that moment."
Savannah has certainly soaked in each moment of what's been a, so far, very memorable season. The Savages are 9-0 in duals this year, and have swept eight of those nine teams.
They medaled in four of the five entries at the Cameron tournament in late March, and finished in the top two in every entry at the Lafayette tournament on Friday.
It was the long hours put in, senior Drew Collier says, between the shutdown last March to this spring that has allowed for such strong success for the entire team.
"In the summer, we went out and hit with each other," Collier said. "Then, we took some indoor lessons over winter, because we couldn't get outside. And now, we're just playing every day mostly."
Drew is on a doubles team with his younger brother Matt, who's a junior. Matt credits Coach Hare's leadership, as well as individual accountability, as part of the winning formula.
"At practice, we get what we need to get done," he said. "Especially with our coach Wakefield Hare. He's always pushing us to be at our best, and we're all pushing ourselves to be better."
Outside of playing recreationally, Hare doesn't have much in the way of tennis-playing experience.
When he had the chance to become the Savannah boys' tennis coach, Hare saw an opportunity to develop his relationship with the team's members, and also help them with the intangibles.
"What I bring to the table is the relationship with these guys," Hare said. "And just that ability to say that 'most of this game exists right between your ears, so let's make sure we do that really well even if you don't have all of the skills and talent,' and I feel like we've been able to do that."
Hare saw the opportunity to help his players grow from a mentality standpoint. He also calls tennis an opportunistic sport.
While it may not get as much attention or involvement as other spring sports like baseball or soccer, Hare says tennis gives young people in the area a chance to discover a hidden talent.
"I think they have greatness within them, it's just a lot of kids bury it deep," Hare said. "Tennis is great, because if you come out here and get swings, you'll find success fairly quickly without years of work. Whereas football, baseball, if you haven't been in it for years, you're not going to be competitive. Tennis isn't like that in our area."
Hare has five seniors who play on the varsity level. He credits Drew Collier for giving this senior class, along with some youngsters behind them, a greater appreciation for the sport.
"Drew deserves a lot of credit, because he got guys on the courts when other teenagers are on their phones or partying," Hare said. "He's working on the court. That's how he's having fun with his friends. He deserves a lot of credit for this whole team, and having some energized youth talent to make everyone better has just been really incredible."
Senior Carter Abbott notices a certain maturity level amongst the team. A maturity that has helped drive the team's success.
"I think there's a level of maturity that's different than skill," Abbott said. "Because, you can have a younger player that's really skilled, and maybe an older player who isn't as much. Those are complimentary to each other to a degree."
Hare recognizes that maturity himself, and sees it trickling down to the younger team members.
"I think they understand the bigger picture," he said. "They know it's only a short-term phenomenon, high school tennis. Whether you play 3-4 years, it's short. So, let's not miss the bigger picture happening. And that's why I'm thankful to have those guys, and I think it sets up Savannah tennis pretty well for the next few years."
Savannah is certainly set up quite well for the rest of this year with three duals (Platte County, Maryville, Benton) and two tournaments (MEC, Benton) remaining.
The stakes will increase as postseason approaches, along with the level of competition. But what Savannah is doing is working. So, they'll approach every dual and tournament remaining this season the same way they always have.
One point at a time.
"We can't go into matches thinking we'll win them easily," said senior Connor Peek. "I feel like we have to play our normal game and play like we always do."
You can follow Tommy on Twitter @TommyKFEQ and St. Joseph Post @StJosephPost.