KINGMAN - Gabby Huffer could tell there was something different about this year's Kingman High girls tennis team on the first day of practice back in February.
"Once our first practice had started I knew automatically that we had gotten so much better than last year," Huffer said. "I knew that it was going to be so much better than last year."
A year ago the Lady Bulldogs were struggling to come up with wins while playing with a young and inexperienced roster made up of mostly freshmen. A year later, those freshmen are more experienced. That experience shows on the court, as the Lady Bulldogs have won their last five matches including Monday's 5-4 win over Flagstaff.
"We were all returnees from last year, and last year they struggled," KHS coach Traci Rosenbach said. "We were close in some of the matches, but they were young and we struggled with trying to find a way to win. This year they are more confident, and they know they can win these matches."
The Lady Bulldogs have been led by their Nos. 4 and 5 singles players in Huffer and Courtney McCans.
Huffer improved to 9-0 with her 6-2, 6-3 win over Kayla Bayer while McCans improved to 9-1 with her 6-3, 6-2 win over Ann Casey.
"Last year I was playing JV, and I came a long way," McCans said.
The thought has crossed the mind of Rosenbach to move Huffer or McCans up, but she also feels they are getting the best success in their current spots.
"I want to build her confidence a little bit more by her winning," said Rosenbach of Huffer. "She's pulling off these wins. Courtney is pulling off wins at No. 5, so it's building her confidence as well."
The other reason not to move the two up is the fact Rosenbach currently has her two seniors, Jill Collins and Kendra Wilson at Nos. 2 and 3 respectfully. A move could mess with the team's chemistry, a chemistry that KHS's No. 1 singles player, Natalie Casson, feels has been one of the reasons for the success.
"We all played volleyball and other sports so it was nice to stick together and grow together," said Casson, who improved to 7-2 with a 7-5, 6-3 win over Audrey Danks. "We are all getting better through practice and we have a nice chemistry that just works well together."
KHS will lose Collins and Willson, and it's expected that Huffer and McCans will fill those spots. The big question for Rosenbach heading into next year is who will fill the No. 4 and No. 5 spots.
"My JV is so new, so it's not like I have someone that has been playing for a couple of years that is ready to move in," Rosenbach said. "Basically it's going to come down to the summer and who gets lessons and prepares for next year."
While next year is still a long way away, the good news for the Lady Bulldogs is Casson will be a senior and Huffer and McCans will have another year's experience under their belts, which is something that has Huffer excited.
"Last year was definitely the start of something special," Huffer said. "I can feel it, and this year we are progressing, and next year we are definitely going to be rocking it."
Kingman High, 5
Singles: KHS, Natale Casson def. Audrey Danks, 7-5, 6-3; FHS, Kirsten Stenkle def. Jill Collins, 6-4, 6-3; KHS, Kendra Wilson def. Tessa Lembke, 6-2, 6-4; KHS, Gabby Huffer def. Kayla Bayer, 6-2, 6-3; KHS, Courtney McCans def. Ann Casey, 6-3, 6-2; FHS, Melissa Mohon def. Alexis Diaz 6-0, 6-2.
Doubles: KHS, Casson/Huffer 8-3 loss, Wilson/McCans 8-3 loss, Collins/Diaz 9-8 win.