McALESTER — Growing up in McAlester, Kolten Koonce loved trying out different sports. He’d played football, basketball, baseball and wrestling.
Just to try something new, Koonce came out for tennis in the spring of his seventh-grade season.
Now a senior, Koonce has made tennis his primary sport.
“I didn’t pick up on it at first, but I eventually started catching on and playing,” Koonce said March 28.
“You couldn’t take a day off, or you’d lose everything.”
Coming into this year, Koonce said he was always the Buffs’ seventh player, practicing with the team and going to tournaments but never quite managing to break into the varsity. That might in part be due to a broken ankle he suffered early in his high-school career, which cost him a season of development.
Koonce finally made the varsity this season.
“Between last season and this season, his effort in practice and the amount of time that he’s spending playing tennis has been the biggest, biggest key to his game this year, to where he’s playing on the varsity lineup, finally, and actually being able to compete,” Buffs coach Chad Waller said.
Koonce has mainly played one-doubles this spring. He’s been paired with Sam DeNike, who went to State as a doubles player in 2013.
“He’s very focused on his matches, and he keeps me pumped and ready,” Koonce said of DeNike. “He always knows how to bring me up.”
While power is always important in tennis, doubles tennis can require more strategy than singles. Players must not only hit the ball hard, but also to a spot neither opposing player can get to.
Koonce said learning ball-placement and angles has been a big challenge this season. When he’s been able to hit for power, he’s tried to rely on his forehand.