Olivia Engelman and Nixa coach Brock Blansit can’t help but wonder what might have been had Engelman picked up a tennis racquet prior to her junior season a year ago.
“I told her parents that if she had played tennis when she was little, she’d really be something now,” Blansit said. “She has a lot of natural ability.”
“If I would have started playing tennis my freshman year, it would have been so much fun to play all four years,” Engelman said. “But at least I got two in.”
Engelman’s second year is providing breakthrough moments nearly on a daily basis. She improved to 4-0 in singles and teamed with Megan Brassard to up their doubles record to 4-0 as Nixa beat Joplin 8-1 Thursday.
Engelman is only a year removed from playing on the Lady Eagles’ junior varsity. She has risen in the ranks all the way to No. 2 singles. When practices started last month, she had no idea she would become one the biggest reasons Nixa is challenging for a COC championship.
“I wasn’t expecting this,” Engelman said. “When we were playing challenge matches and I started beating people, I was thinking, ‘Wow!’ I played all summer and it helped me improve. I probably got a little taller, which helped some, too.”
The 5-foot-10 Engelman moves exceptionally well for her size. Her height and athleticism allow her to dominate at the net. Blansit can remember only one other Nixa player who came to net as often as Engelman does.
“Hannah Todd was the same way,” Blansit said. “They both like coming to the net and are very competitive.”
Engelman figures her volleyball background correlates to the tennis court.
“I played volleyball for 10 years and was always aggressive at the net, so it kind of has transferred over to tennis,” she said. “I like putting the ball down at the net. It’s exciting.”
Given the contrasting playing styles of Engelman and Bressard, it was an easy decision for Blansit to pair them up in doubles.
“They makes for a great combination,” Blansit said. “Megan likes to play along the baseline and Olivia is hard to hit over the top because she has so much length.”
“Megan loves staying back, so it works out perfectly since I like being at the net,” Engelman added.
Engelman gave tennis a try after she experienced a bit of volleyball burnout.
“I think I wore myself out from playing volleyball. Playing school ball and club ball, it was non-stop,” she said. “Tennis is so much more laid-back. But there is still an aggressive side to it, which I enjoy.”
Engelman’s aggressive nature was on full display Tuesday, when she beat Ozark’s Hannah Metcalf 9-7 to clinch Nixa’s 5-4 win. The dual came down to their match with the teams tied at 4-all. Engelman prevailed with a winning slam at the net.
“It was a really exciting match,” Engelman said. “I tried to stay calm the whole time so I wouldn’t freak out or anything. There were a lot of people watching. We hadn’t beaten Ozark in a long time, so it was a good feeling.”
Nixa will host Webb City, Branson and Republic next week.
“We’ve only won the conference in 2015. This is the next best shot we’ve had,” Blansit said. “All three of those teams will be good and they will be competitive matches.”