Southfield-Lathrup tennis with experience at singles positions

By: Christian Davis | Southfield Sun | Published April 23, 2014

LATHRUP VILLAGE — With the tennis season beginning to heat up after a slow start, Southfield-Lathrup girls coach Velma Smith isn’t sure what kind of team she has on her hands, but she likes the signs that she’s seeing.

“It’s going to be very interesting, but I can say that the girls are very enthused about the game,” she said. “They come out for practice and are trying, but sometimes when you develop bad habits, it can be hard to break.”

The Chargers return four players from last season’s team in sophomores Essence Eaton and KeKe Thompson-Jones, junior Ariana Mann and senior Jennifer Wardell.

Eaton plays No. 1 singles.

“She’s very good. She’s been playing for a little while before she came to me. She’s a good player, and with so many new girls, she helps out a lot. She helps coach and gives them tips and ideas of what she does,” Smith said. “Essence does everything well, and she has a very strong serve.”

Mann holds down the No. 2 singles spot. Wardell is No. 3 singles, and Thompson-Jones is at No. 4.

The trio uses their athletic ability to wear down opponents.

“They’re willing to run the ball down. They are very determined and they don’t like to give up, and enjoy the game a lot,” Smith said.

Eaton said the veterans use their experiences to help out the first-year players, who make up the majority of the roster.

“Coach can’t do it all by herself. … We walk around and help the other girls with their serves or ground strokes, or whatever it needs to be,” she said. “It’s been good. There are a lot of new girls, but they have great athletic ability and are going to develop really fast.”

The doubles teams are Jasmine Murphy and Briana Wilson at No. 1; Nykeita Nelms and Nia Chatman at No. 2; Brianna Hobson and Brittany Hobson at No. 3; and Nia Hogan and Jaida Morgan at No. 4.

Tyesha Hughes, Kyra Woodley, Ayeesha Ealey and Natalie Slappy are auxiliary players and give depth to the team.

The Chargers compete in the Oakland Activities Association Blue Division. Smith wants to compete for a title, but her main goal is building the program.

“I just really want to teach them the game and have them enjoy the game. … I’m interested in really trying to grow a team for next year, because most of the girls are sophomores — some are juniors, but mostly sophomores. That’s a good thing,” Smith said.