Other Varsity Sports

Carroll tennis benefits from Steven family reunions on the court

Five Steven girls playing for Bishop Carroll

5 Steven girls (from three different families) playing tennis for Bishop Carroll: Brittany, Vanessa, Lauren, Brayden and Lainie. (Video by Bo Rader / The Wichita Eagle)
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5 Steven girls (from three different families) playing tennis for Bishop Carroll: Brittany, Vanessa, Lauren, Brayden and Lainie. (Video by Bo Rader / The Wichita Eagle)

Bishop Carroll has a tried-and-true formula for maintaining its dominance in girls tennis.

Call it the Steven Family Plan.

Once again, the Golden Eagles will enter Saturday’s City League tournament at the Coleman Tennis Center carrying four players with the same last name.

Adding to opponents’ misery is the fact that not one will graduate this year.

Coach Darren Huslig said he realizes his good fortune from the family ties.

“You’ve got three brothers (Rodney II, Brandon and Johnny Steven) all having kids at the same time,” he said. “I’m a little bit spoiled, because they take tennis seriously, are always working, and working to improve their game.

“We’re very fortunate.”

Three are juniors, led by Brittany, the defending City League singles champion. Tennis titles run in the family, as her brother Rodney III, a senior at Carroll, is the two-time Class 5A state boys singles champion.

Brittany’s cousins, juniors Brayden and Lauren, are the Golden Eagles’ top doubles team.

Brittany’s younger sister, Vanessa, is ready to make her mark as a freshman.

The Stevens could almost form a dual-meet lineup on their own and might have had sophomore Lainie not suffered a fractured elbow at the beginning of the season.

It isn’t the first time Carroll has benefited from family tennis standouts. In 2012, Carroll was powered by then-junior Courtney Lubbers and her freshman fraternal twin sisters, Natalie and Nicole, as well as cousin Maddie Oxler, a senior, to win the 5A state title. Brittany Steven arrived on the scene when the Lubbers twins were seniors, as was her sister Breckyn, who won a state title as one-half of a Carroll doubles team.

This year, Brittany is the team leader after a fourth-place finish at state in 2016. She said she’s anticipating a tough singles draw Saturday.

“It will probably be a pretty good match in the finals because of Kapaun’s (freshman) Clara Whittaker,” Brittany said. “I’ve lost to her a couple of times, but I’m hoping to get some more games on her and start winning against her.”

The presence of her cousins and younger sister on the team enhance her tennis experience, she said.

“It makes it fun, because we get to be with each other a lot, and it keeps the competition nice and friendly,” she said.

Brayden and Lauren are in their first year as a doubles pairing, and gave eventual runners-up Sydney Lair and Hannah Geoffroy of Collegiate a battle at last Saturday’s Tournament of Champions, dropping a suspenseful match in a tiebreaker.

Brayden, who said she started tennis at age 4 or 5, likes having family around on the court.

“It’s a really fun environment,” she said. “We’re all so close. I’m excited that I get to be partners with one of my cousins. (Family) has always been an inspiration. They’ve always pushed us to meet the expectations that they’ve set.”

Lauren said that playing with her cousin and other family members provides a sense of comfort. She said that even with the family ties, playing with Brayden has drawn them closer.

“It’s been really good (chemistry),” said Lauren. “We’ve learned a lot more about each other, and it’s almost an advantage playing with your cousin, because you don’t have to worry about hurting their feelings. We know each other, so we don’t have to worry about damaging our relationship.

“It’s exciting, thinking that we’re doing all this as juniors, and we still have more to do.”

Lauren has improved the most this season, Huslig said.

“And that’s saying a lot, because all of them have upped their games,” he said.

Vanessa, Brittany’s younger sister, said she has learned a lot this season and will be ready to make her mark when the time comes. Like Brittany, she is slightly taller than her cousins.

She said the tennis court almost becomes a family reunion.

“It’s a lot of fun being with my family all the time,” she said. “I like it.”

Lainie’s cast came off a couple of weeks ago, she said, and she’s building strength in preparation for next year.

“I didn’t know how much I’d learn just by watching my cousins and sister,” she said. “That has helped me learn a lot about tennis and strategy.”

As if the entire clan returning next year weren’t bad enough for opponents, Lauren and Lainie will be joined next year by sister Lexi, an incoming freshman.

And the beat goes on.