Singles shining for Hays High
By AUSTIN COLBERT
Hays High tennis players Julie Balzer and Brooke Forinash spend plenty of time competing during practice, although it often ends with them dancing and singing on the court.
"Brooke is silly. We listen to music while we play and I sing a lot ... we dance and sing," Balzer said. "We get off topic sometimes."
This joyful camaraderie certainly isn't hindering the two on the court, where they have each taken first and second place in their two tournaments this season, including Thursday at the HHS Invitational at the Hays City Courts.
It was the lone home tournament of the season for the Indians.
Balzer, the No. 1 singles player, took second, while Forinash, the No. 2 singles player, cruised through all three of her matches, facing Victoria's Maegan Karlin twice.
This was a mirror image of last week's Cimarron Invitational, where Balzer won from the No. 2 spot and Forinash took second as the No. 1.
And don't expect the back-and-forth competition for the No. 1 spot -- or the dancing -- to stop.
"It's fun. It keeps it very light-hearted," Forinash said. "We push ourselves to do better during practice. It's nice to have someone that is going to help you, too."
Balzer, a senior, is in her first year as a No. 1 varsity singles player for the Indians. By playing varsity, she is challenged more on the court and believes this is helping her on many levels.
"I'm seeing better competition this year than last year, so I feel it's making me a better player," Balzer said. "I've improved on my playing, so that makes me happy."
One improvement has been in her stance and swing. Balzer is also a softball player, and often had trouble when she used that same swing on the tennis court. But a few adjustments from first-year coach Megan Quinley has her playing her best tennis.
"Julie was a fighter today," Quinley said. "Her matches were long, back-to-back, but she never gave up. She didn't win all of them, but she played like she wanted to. You could tell she was out there and she left everything on the court. I'm very proud of her for that."
On the other side is Forinash, a sophomore, who is quickly becoming a star for the Indians. She was the No. 2 singles player on varsity during her freshman year, bringing home a couple of first-place finishes to go with many seconds and thirds.
She looked every bit a No. 1 on Thursday.
"The fact that she still has two more years and the rest of this season, she is going to be quite the little tennis player," Quinley said. "She has a lot of time to really improve her game even more."
That improvement is certainly aided by getting to play a veteran talent like Balzer each day in practice. Despite the carefree approach they take into it, each of them has shown a drive to work hard that could carry them far this season.
"It's good that one day one will win and one day the other will win," Quinley said. "Not only does it build the girls' confidence, but it shows them that they can compete and it's just exciting to see them do well."
Hays High's doubles teams of Molly Barnett and Kelsee DeBoer, and Emily McPherson and Ashley Cossaart, both took third-place in their respective flights.
The Indians will continue their season on Tuesday in Great Bend.
Victoria's Schmidt wins No. 1 singles
Victoria senior Brooke Schmidt played volleyball as a freshman, but the following summer she decided to see what tennis was all about.
"I just thought I'd try it," Schmidt said. "I knew some of the girls that played previous years and they said it was really fun, so I went and played with them. And I really liked it."
As it turns out, she is also really good at it.
Schmidt won the No. 1 singles tournament of the HHS Invitational on Thursday, defeating Balzer twice, including 6-1 in the finals.
The win came as a surprise to Schmidt, who didn't know if she could stack up against the Class 5A skills coming from a 1A school.
"I wasn't expecting it. I knew it would be difficult," she said. "I was really nervous and I didn't expect that to happen."
While Schmidt down-played her win, Victoria tennis coach Rhoda Urban couldn't have been happier. Urban has been the team's coach for 10 years, except for a small gap three years ago when she was battling cancer.
"This is my love," Urban said of coaching tennis. "I'm just delighted to be back and spending time with the girls."
To add to Urban's delight, Victoria did just enough to sneak past Hays High for the overall team title, something Victoria had never accomplished in this tournament.
Karlin also made the finals of the No. 2 singles flight, falling to Forinash.
"We are really excited about getting that first-place team medal," Urban said. "We are real proud that we can come and play with the bigger schools. That says a lot about my girls and their desire to play."