When Gary Garver decided to make the move from Pekin to Washington this season to coach girls tennis, he was already familiar with many of his new players.
"I gave more lessons to the girls that I’ve got here (at Washington) than I did at Pekin," said Garver, who was giving private lessons to several players on the Panthers’ roster. "I got tired of giving lessons to other teams and then having them beat my team.
"So when the opportunity came up at Washington, I knew what was here. I couldn’t wait to make the change."
What he inherited was a team that went on to win the Mid-Illini Conference title.
Garver’s top player at Washington is senior Sierra Sonnemaker, who was a second-team all-state doubles player last year when she and doubles partner Erica Shangraw just missed earning a medal with a top-16 finish.
Sonnemaker switched to singles this year, and won No. 1 singles at the Mid-Illini meet.
"(Garver) has been my private coach for five years," she said. "He knows how I play and pretty much everything about me. So that helps, because he knows what makes me improve, and he’s been the one who has helped me so much with my serve."
Sonnemaker, sophomore Palmer Whiston (M-I No. 2 singles champ) at No. 2 singles, Alli Schellenberg at No. 6 singles, and the duo of Sonnemaker ant Whiston at No. 2 doubles all went undefeated this season against Mid-Illini opponents.
"We went into most matches with a pretty good idea we were going to score four points," Garver said. "All we had to do then was find somebody else to kind of step up a little bit."
Sonnemaker is the No. 3 singles seed at the 1A Bloomington Sectional, where Garver is hoping for more success.
"Up there is different (than the conference tournament)," he said. "It’s now how the team does. It’s who qualifies for state. I just want to get people through. I’ve got some kids here that deserve it.
"I couldn’t ask for more from just a great bunch of kids. I’m so proud of them, how they’ve taken to instructions, and just owned what you ask them to do. It’s just unbelievable."
Johnny Campos can be reached at 686-3214 or at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @JohnnyCampos59.