Sitting with the West Junior High tennis team as they waited to take the courts at Lawrence High Thursday, it may have been hard to tell they were preparing to play a match.
Tennis balls, rackets and duffel bags lay scattered around them. But so were a number of other items. Golf balls, musical instruments and schoolwork all surrounded the group of tennis players.
Conversations spanned everything from "who likes who" to the colors of the M&Ms someone had provided in snack bags for the players.
West coach Laura Smysor said the diversity of interests was one of the most fascinating things about the ninth-graders on her team.
"They are just involved in everything," Smysor said, proceeding to give a seemingly never-ending list of her girls' other talents and interests. Most of which ones take place far away from the courts.
Smysor pointed out Wren Wiebe and called her "the best basketball player at West."
Marcy Vickers does not play basketball, but she does run track, swim and play soccer. Of course, she plays a little tennis, too.
"Marcy is a really great athlete," Smysor said. "She can do it all."
It was not just the coach who had compliments to share.
Vickers said no matter whether teammate Christina Picicci is playing tennis or taking part in one of her many activities, including playing the piano and bowling for Free State High, "She always puts a smile on everyone's face."
Picicci isn't the only ninth-grader who plays both junior high and high school sports.
Grace Brahler is a Free State golfer on the days she is not practicing or competing in tennis matches. Smysor said she is one of the best golfers at the school.
Not only that, but Brahler and Mackenzie Lown are co-presidents of the student council. Brahler is a cheerleader; Lown is a dancer.
"I dance all year round," Lown said before Smysor cut in to add, "And on the court."
Smysor continued to point out the talents of her squad.
"Jordan Koch is an amazing singer," she said. "And a heck of a guitar player."
Amber Steimle rattled off a list of seven extracurricular activities she participates in, while Jenny Loewen seems to have a perpetual smile.
The West Warhawks could have gone on all day bragging on each other. But they did have some tennis to play.
And when they took to the courts, it did not matter that tennis was not the main focus in many of the girls' lives. They can flat-out play.
In Thursday's quadrangular, they managed to beat every team they came up against. The victories came thanks to strong performances from their multi-talented top players.
When Lown and Koch found themselves down 6-5 against Southwest, several of their teammates crowded around and cheered them on. The pair regrouped and fought to a 9-7 victory in a tiebreaker.
The two shrieked and embraced after winning the last point.
Steimle and her partner, Shasta Conrad, emerged victorious around the same time. They were immediately greeted by Smysor, who said, "Good win. I'm proud of you guys."
The girls agreed that kind of support is a big part of why the majority of them have played tennis all three years and plan to continue in high school.
"Coach Smysor is awesome," Brahler said. "She's really fun to play for."
Another ninth-grader, Leyonna Smith, agreed.
"She's a really good motivator," she said.
Smysor left her teaching job years ago, before these girls were even born. She is now a realtor. But she has stayed on as the tennis coach for more than 20 years because she loves what she does.
"I feel so lucky to get to work with these kinds of kids," Smysor said. "This is a great team."