Golden Racket

Kelly Walsh's Finley Klinger returns the ball to Natrona County's Alexis Holscher during their match in the Golden Racket last year at the Casper Country Club.

An impressive weekend for the Kelly Walsh girls’ tennis team did not end with a clean 5-0 sweep of rival Natrona County for the sacred Golden Racket.

Less than a day after the annual rivalry match the Trojans hosted Cody. The previously undefeated Fillies stepped off the courts of Casper Country Club last Saturday with their first blemish — a 3-2 loss to the Trojans.

That victory sealed a regular-season conference championship for the Kelly Walsh girls one week before the conference meet and two weeks before state.

For the Trojans, this season has been made possible by two determining factors: veteran leadership and the emergence of a freshman.

Some of that leadership comes from the No. 1 doubles team of Kylie Spangler and Josette Bowers. Those two bring the confidence of winning last year’s state championship into this season. It was a championship they earned after winning a three-set tiebreaker in the final.

“Probably one of the best matches I’ve ever seen in high school,” Kelly Walsh head coach Buddy Johnson said. “They’ve been there, they know what to do. I’ll tell them if they’re playing lazy or just dogging it or barely trying because they know what it takes.”

Spangler and Bowers fell in three sets to the Cody tandem of Simona Wambeke and Maddy Icenogle on Saturday. Wambeke was actually a member of Cody’s No. 1 doubles team last season, which Spangler and Bowers defeated in the semifinals on the way to the title.

That was one of few slip-ups by the Trojans No. 1 doubles team, which should enter the North regional with a good seeding. Seedings aren’t announced until later this week and possibly as late as the day of competition.

Another major component to the Trojans’ success has been the arrival of freshman Finley Klinger at No. 1 singles. Klinger stands at 12-0 after the successful weekend that included wins against Powell’s Elise North, Natrona County’s Alexis Holscher and Cody’s Tessa Blough. Klinger dropped a total of one set combined between North and Holscher, but the match against Blough brought more difficulty.

Blough hadn’t lost before that match, but Klinger hit her stride and won 6-1, 6-4.

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“I feel pretty good,” Klinger said before playing Blough. “I was a little bit nervous in a couple of matches because I just didn’t have the experience but I feel good now.”

Johnson remembered seeing Klinger practicing for years at Casper Country Club. He didn’t know she would be a freshman this season until she decided to play for the Trojans.

“I knew she was good because if you watch her she’s got a good mental game,” Johnson said. “You could watch her whole match and she never doesn’t get to the ball. She lives and breathes tennis.”

Klinger said that it took about two weeks for her to get comfortable at the varsity level. Through that adjustment period she also had to gel with her teammates.

“At first with her coming in it was a little bit of a chemistry adjustment because she’s so good,” Johnson said. “Then Lily’s been playing with her all summer so Lily’s game’s gotten better. Now I think they all know this is a team sport.”

Johnson was referring to sophomore Lily Putnam, who played at No. 2 doubles last season but has stepped into the No. 2 singles role this year. She also is 12-0 going into the weekend.

That sort of depth has made the Trojans the team to beat in the North Conference. They’ll have a chance to defend that regular-season championship this upcoming weekend at regionals in Rock Springs.

Last season the Trojans finished third at conference leading up to a runner-up finish at state. Considering they just won part of the conference, the Trojans enter regionals and state with confidence. They just hope they can keep ascending.

“You want to be peaking at state,” Johnson said, “just like any season.”

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Follow sports reporter Brady Oltmans on Twitter @BradyOltmans


High School Sports Reporter

Brady Oltmans reports on high school and local sports. He joined the Star-Tribune in July 2016 after covering prep sports and college soccer in Nebraska. He also contributes to University of Wyoming sports coverage. He and his dog live in Casper.

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