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Circle boys tennis thriving with new, experienced players

By Joanna Chadwick

While Hal Leep is the only returning state qualifier to the Circle boys tennis team, he’s not the only experienced player.

Pablo Gaitan Lleo is a foreign exchange student, who also plays varsity singles and started playing when he was 3 years old.

“Pablo is a sponge when it comes to being coachable,” Circle coach Shawn Lehecka said. “He has a powerful shot and a large knowledge of the mechanics…. He has been focusing on making the adjustments to the wind and humidity that Kansas has to offer.”

Gaitan Lleo had some expectations about Kansas tennis, though — his sister, Alejandra, was also a foreign exchange student at Circle.

“They both have the same competitive drive and love for the game,” Lehecka said. “They started playing at a young age and both had to make adjustments to the wind and humidity. Both have shown struggles with the adjustments, but neither has backed down from it.

“Alejandra’s season was in the fall, therefore she had less time to understand and adapt to the culture here. Pablo had time to adjust, but also had to adjust playing sports he wasn’t use to (football and basketball). Both have had a great group of friends to help with the transition and make the experience a memorable one.”

Leep, a senior, has the most experience on the team, although he started his high school career in doubles.

“Hal has made tremendous improvements mentally and physically from previous seasons,” Lehecka said. “Early in his career he was focused on doubles, but has transitioned to singles with a lot of success. He was a state qualifier last season and is looking at returning to that platform this year.”

Juniors Landon Boldra and Keaton Koenigsman are out for tennis for the first time, but they are competitors. Both played basketball and advanced to the Class 4A tournament.

“They are extremely athletic and can get to every ball,” Lehecka said. “Previously playing pickleball has helped them pick up the tennis mechanics a lot quicker than others. Their athleticism and competitive drive makes them a strong force together.”

Lehecka has enjoyed the season so far.

“This group is fun to coach because of their competitive drive and love for competition,” he said. “They constantly challenge each other in a positive way and find ways to enjoy the process. They understand what it takes to be successful and aren’t afraid to work for it.”

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