How strange a year was it for Hilton Head Island High School boys tennis?
Their best player couldn't attend tryouts and had to defeat each teammate in a challenge match to claim the top spot. And the head coach dealt with several lineup changes that she admitted fostered some initial tension. Players were forced to adjust to new roles.
That it all turned out about as well as such things can, with a state championship and fond memories, is partly due to the resilience of Tate Steinour, one of those new faces and the man who rose to the top the hard way.
And it's why Steinour is Beaufort Gazette and The Island Packet's Boys Tennis Player of the Year.
Steinour was born on the island, but only moved back from Virginia last year, ahead of his sophomore year. Because he played on the school's basketball squad, Steinour could not attend tennis tryouts, so he approached coach Jennifer Weitekamper later asking if there was still a way for him to be on the team. There was, but Weitekamper came up with an unusual requirement if her new player wanted the coveted No. 1 spot.
"I flat out told Tate in the hall, you have to work completely bottom up," Weitekamper said.
That meant winning a series of challenge matches against teammates, from No. 9 to No. 1.
"He was able to do it," she said. "He knew he was going to be one."
"When I met Ms. Weitekamper, she was really nice about getting me in," Steinour said. "The whole first month I didn't do any practices. I had just a challenge match every practice. It was tough, but I got through."
Steinour proved to be a crucial piece in the team's first state championship in 25 years. As just a sophomore, Steinour's singles record was an impressive 14-6, an improvement from his record as a freshman in Virginia.
"I was more prepared for it," Steinour said. "This year I was a bit more mature, even being in a whole new setting. There were great players. It's always fun having the best competition."
Steinour, an all-state selection, said the state championship made everything worth it in the end, and said he is ready to play high school tennis for another two years. That's bad news for area competition. It appears the young standout is only just getting started.
WEITEKAMPER NAMED COACH OF THE YEAR
That's what Hilton Head Island High School boys tennis coach Jennifer Weitekamper said she felt in the wake of her team's first state championship since Bette Midler and Milli Vanilli were topping the charts.
"I stressed more for them because I know how much they wanted it," Weitekamper said.
She did her fair share of stressing before and during the season, when an influx of talent meant shifting established players -- even quality seniors -- down in the pecking order. Weitekamper admitted there was some tension, and that it took about a week for everyone to fully settle down. But once the team bought in, players began to see a method behind her seeming madness. Led by young stars and skillful veterans alike, including Tate Steinour and senior Mitchell Brockmann, two all-area players, the Seahawks soared undefeated through region play and eventually blew by A.C. Flora in the state final.
"I had to do more team pulling together," Weitekamper said. "The skill was there. It just had to be re-done with all these new faces. They really stepped up this year. Each of those boys respected each other."
In turn, they each found a way to come to grips with the changing team dynamic, and for their efforts were rewarded the ultimate prize.
The Beaufort Gazette and The Island Packet All-Area Boys Tennis Team
Player of the Year: Tate Steinour, Hilton Head Island
Coach of the Year: Jennifer Weitekamper , Hilton Head Island
Jared Woodson, Hilton Head Prep
Tate Steinour, Hilton Head Island
Mitchell Brockmann, Hilton Head Island
Hampton Drake, Hilton Head Christian
Aaron Newland, Bluffton
Alex Angus, Beaufort High