PALMYRA, Mo. – The Palmyra girls tennis team is used to playing schools from the North Central Missouri Conference.
This year, however, those matches mean a little bit more.
After being unaffiliated with any conference, Palmyra joins the NCMC for tennis and gives the Panthers the opportunity to capture a conference title. That’s what the players are wanting to accomplish.
"It’ll definitely be different this year because these matches mean something," senior Amy Bryan said. "We’ll dig in and fight for it."
The Panthers should be in the hunt for the title.
Palmyra’s schedule last season consisted of Hannibal, Moberly, Kirksville, Fulton, Mexico and Marshall – all NCMC schools – and the Panthers went 7-2 in duels against those schools. Palmyra also defeated Fulton and Mexico in the district tournament as well.
"It allows them to be a championship in something," Palmyra coach Jessica Gottman said. "I mean, of course there’s districts but those can be really hard to go get. This can definitely be a motivator for these girls."
That success against the NCMC schools gives Palmyra confidence they can battle for a conference title.
"It’s another award for us to go get," senior Reagan Lehenbauer said. "Hopefully we can achieve it because that’s what we're wanting. That would be cool to come in the first year and win it."
The experience the Panthers return boosts that confidence not just for a conference championship, but also deep runs in the postseason.
Palmyra returns its top five singles players in Bryan, Raegan Barnett, Lehenbauer, Jansen Juette and McKenna Abbott. Barnett returns after missing last season with a knee injury.
Palmyra missed out on a team district championship last fall that would have been the team’s third in as many seasons. However, the doubles team of Lehenbauer and Juette made a run to the Class 1 state championship tournament.
Lehenauer and Juette lost their first-round match at state to a doubles team from MICDS.
That means there’s expectations for Palymra to send more players to state.
"We always try to set the bar that high," Lehenbauer said. "That’s the goal."
Getting there, however, won’t be easy. The difference could be the work the players put it during the offseason.
"Some of us don’t play until we get to high school," Barnett said. "Then we see it’s a good program and girls can get to state so they start practicing and play outside of school season. It’s motivation to get up off the ground, and it’s a lot of self-motivation."
Being named a conference champion would add on to a potential special season too.
"That’d be a ton of fun," Barnett said. "Especially since I didn’t play last year. It’d be cool to win that for the first time."