Cook, Needham got to be teammates one last time at WTT Junior Nationals

·3 min read

Jul. 24—CHEYENNE — World TeamTennis Junior Nationals didn't just give Emily Needham and Jackson Cook an opportunity to don the same uniform one last time. The Florida-based tournament also provided the Cheyenne Central standouts variety of new experiences.

The Wyoming-Utah Cowboys and Cougars team of three girls and three boys that Needham and Cook played on was led by Cheyenne South coach Josh Cossitt. They finished 11th in the 16-team event.

"We were one of the lowest-rated teams there, but we did really well," Needham said. "We beat quite a few teams, even ones we weren't expected to. Everyone raised their level of play when we got there.

"We also really supported each other. I could hear teammates cheering me on when we were down a couple points, and I did the same. It was a great feeling being part of a team like that again."

Needham and Cook gained their spots on the Cowboys and Cougars team in different ways.

Needham — a two-time Wyoming No. 1 singles champion — earned a spot on the 2020 WTT Junior National team based on her ranking within the USTA's Intermountain Region. That event was canceled in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, but Needham retained her spot this summer.

Cossitt saved three roster spots for Wyoming players to earn through in-state tournament play. Players first had to emerge from a tournament within their own school before moving on to an event at Cheyenne's Frontier Park Family Tennis Center.

Jackson's Campbell Gervais won the boys portion of that tournament, and South's Andrew Lock was second. Jackson Cook placed third at that event, and took Lock's spot when he wasn't able to make the trip to Florida. Kelly Walsh's Finley Klinger won the girls tournament.

"Being able to play at that high of a level was really cool," said Cook, who will be a senior at Central this fall. "I was really excited about the experience of playing a different style of team tennis in such a big environment."

Wyoming high school tennis doesn't use mixed doubles as part of its dual format. Instead, it divides girls and boys teams and plays two singles and three doubles matches per gender. The teams that win the most best-of-three-set matches win the duals.

WTT plays two singles matches per gender, one girls doubles match, one boys doubles match and two mixed doubles matches. Each match lasts one set, and the team that wins the most sets wins the dual.

The tournament also allows for playing let serves (serves that clip the net, but still land in the appropriate service box). That rule, in particular, took some getting used to.

"We were all kind of standing around on lets the first couple matches because we weren't used to playing them," Needham said.

Needham topped Klinger for the No.1 singles title the past two falls, and enjoyed the opportunity to get to know Klinger off the court.

"Getting to actually meet her and see her as something other than a really tough competitor was great," said Needham, who is continuing her career at NCAA Division II University of Mary in Bismarck, North Dakota. "I have always respected her as a tennis player, but getting to know her personally and play doubles with her was a real highlight of my tennis career so far."

Both Needham and Cook work with Cossitt throughout the year, and being coached by him on a national tournament team was a highlight for both players.

Needham wasn't the only person who learned something about her teammates on the trip.

"I had no idea she drinks a Monster energy drink before every match," Cook said with a laugh. "I've never seen her with one before, and I don't think she drinks them any other time. But she drinks one before matches to get a little extra energy."

Jeremiah Johnke is the WyoSports editor. He can be reached at jjohnke@wyosports.net or 307-633-3137. Follow him on Twitter at @jjohnke.

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