Firebirds tennis players inaugurate new home at Rock Chalk Park

Free State sophomore Natalie Myers winds up for a return against Olathe Northwest during a quad on Wednesday, Sept. 24, 2014 at Rock Chalk Park.

In the past, Free State High’s tennis players occasionally had to finish home matches while racing the setting sun. Without any lights surrounding their six campus courts, the Firebirds didn’t want to play in the dark.

They don’t have that problem anymore. Free State played for the first time Wednesday at its new tennis home, Rock Chalk Park. The Firebirds didn’t need the lights at their quad this time, but they could thank the availability of eight courts for that, too.

FSHS senior Taylor Hawkins, who teamed with junior Rachel Walters to win two of three No. 2 doubles matches, loved the off-campus setup.

“It’s just nice playing someplace else, kind of like a breath of fresh air,” Hawkins said after FSHS finished the quad by beating Shawnee Mission North, following losses to Olathe Northwest and Shawnee Mission Northwest.

Senior Berit Conway, who played her second varsity event in place of injured senior Alyssa Raye, recovered from two straight losses to end the quad with a victory at No. 2 singles.

“I know my second match, I just made a lot of stupid errors,” Conway said, “where in the last match, I got a lot more (shots) in.”

Coach Oather Strawderman said he would have preferred a few more wins for his players at their new home.

“Olathe Northwest is a team I always like to be competitive with, and I think today we had some good matches against them,” the coach said, referencing Hawkins and Walters’ win, as well as sisters Caitlin and Ali Dodd losing a tiebreaker at No. 1 doubles. “But there were a couple that didn’t quite work out the way we wanted to.”

Still, all the Firebirds felt good about playing at a new, high-quality facility.

“Anything that we can do as a city to continue to promote and improve the quality of tennis in Lawrence is amazing,” Strawderman said. “And this is a great example of the city promoting a lifetime sport.”