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Gonsor, Douglas making most of final prep tennis season

Aberdeen Central’s Livia Douglas, left, fist bumps with double partner Laney Gonsor, right, during a match earlier this season against St. Thomas More at the Holgate Middle School tennis courts. Photo by John Davis taken 9/11/2023

While it might be somewhat standard practice to put the most experienced players at the top of the lineup, Aberdeen Central senior tennis players Laney Gonsor and Livia Douglas have found themselves manning the middle of the Golden Eagle pack this season.

And the Golden Eagles are thriving because of it.

Gonsor holds the number three spot in singles play with Douglas in four, and the pair has worked out a solid partnership at two doubles for a Golden Eagle squad that has relied on them for both depth and leadership.

“Their experience does play a key role in (our success),” said Central coach John Vogel. “Early on I was telling everyone how balanced this team was and I’m sure they were extremely disappointed right away to be three and four. I think they thought they’d be battling for one.”

When that didn’t happen, the two immediately turned their attention to the task set before them – winning tennis matches.

“We look to the middle of our lineup now as our strength,” Vogue said, adding that the top four players in Central’s lineup could probably be described as interchangeable. “When you have a team that’s as deep as we are – and other teams are, as well – it is, then, that depth. And that depth is our three and four and our two doubles.”

And it’s worked out well, both for the Golden Eagles team at large and for both players individually.

Gonsor has gone 18-4 in singles play at flight three, while Douglas went 14-3 at flight four. The two teamed up for the first time in doubles play and posted a record of 14-4 at flight two.

But it was a doubles partnership that almost didn’t happen, Vogel said.

“I had different teams when we went to Pierre for the West River Invite (at the beginning of the year),” Vogel said. “I saw Livia and Reese (Comstock) clobber our conference champions (Emily Ringgenberg and Alice Vogel) last year in the city tournament. And they looked really magnificent. So I thought, ‘Oh, there’s my ones.’ Then we ended up putting them at two, because Julia (Knie) and Avery (Tennant) clobbered them. Then we saw how good Laney and Olivia Geier looked, so we thought, ‘There’s our teams.’”

But a few early-season struggles led to a brainstorming session and a suggestion.

“Livia came to me and said, ‘Coach, me and Laney were talking. Maybe we could try it,’” Vogel said. “So I said, ‘Let’s try it.’ And I think it’s worked out well.”

Each player has brought something different to the table. Gonsor, for her part, brought adaptability, having worked with a different doubles partner every season on the varsity roster. Douglas brought a steady, even keel.

“In the summer, I play a lot of doubles with a lot of different people, because I play a lot of tournaments,” Gonsor said. “I’m used to playing with different people all the time.”

Gonsor, who has varsity experience dating back to her seventh-grade season, said a key part of her game has been living in the moment.

“Just having fun because I know it’s my last year,” she said. “If I have a bad mindset and don’t have fun, I know I’m going to regret it.”

Aberdeen Central’s Laney Gonsor returns a volley during a doubles match Monday against St. Thomas More at the Holgate Middle School tennis courts. Photo by John Davis taken 9/11/2023

Gonsor said she worked over the summer to improve her serves, and has seen the payoff in the season.

That, she hopes, will help propel her into the postseason. Gonsor won flight five singles as a sophomore and has been chasing a return to the top spot on the podium ever since.

“I put a lot of pressure on myself last year to get there and it didn’t happen,” she said.

Douglas said the key to her success this season has been a return to base, sometimes moment by moment.

“Being very patient with myself and with tennis as a game,” she said. “Tennis is very much a mental game and it’s easy to get down. I think really just resetting after every point and knowing that my teammates are there supporting me and being able to support them as well really keeps me going.”

Like Gonsor, Douglas said she put a lot of time and effort into improving her serve over the summer.

“I used to have a lot of trouble with my toss,” Douglas said. “It used to be kind of behind my head and I was trying to do a kick serve, which ended up not working. The toss got off and it was hard to get my serves in. Over the summer, I really worked on getting that toss down and now I’m able to get my serve (in) and even get aces sometimes. That’s been nice to have that hard work pay off.”

Aberdeen Central’s Livia Douglas reaches to return a volley during a doubles match earlier this season against St. Thomas More at the Holgate Middle School tennis courts. Photo by John Davis taken 9/11/2023

Ironically, this is not the first time Gonsor and Douglas have played doubles together, though it last happened at the middle school level. But that familiarity has stood the pair well at the twilight of their careers.

“My biggest challenge was seeing who I could gel with at flight two,” Douglas said. “I think it worked out pretty well being with Laney. She is, by far, one of the best players (Coach) could have put me with. It’s been really nice.”

With just two tournaments left in the season – the Eastern South Dakota Conference tournament which begins today and the state tournament which begins Oct. 5 – Gonsor said the two players want to leave the court with no regrets.

“We know if we don’t have fun our last year, we’re going to regret it,” she said. “Just trying to make the most of it.”

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