By Ryan Atkinson
Globe Sports Writer
Will Little and Jeremy Lynn mill around on a tennis court in one of Joplin’s nicer communities, preparing for another workout on a nondescript Wednesday in May.
For passers-by, nothing more than a friendly game of tennis is about to take place.
And that’s what rankles Ken Goodall, the duo’s private coach who completes Joplin’s quiet tennis triumvirate.
“I just wish people in this area would understand what they have in these kids,” Goodall said. “There is no coverage of it. Will just finished in the finals of a national tournament. If he was a basketball player, he’d be a star on TV right now. And no one cares. No one cares.”
Little and Lynn, under the direction of Goodall, have become the top players, literally, in the USTA’s Missouri Valley, a region covering Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Iowa and Nebraska.
Since March, Little has been No. 1 in the 18-under rankings. Right behind him has been Lynn.
It’s a rare feat for two players from the same town to be ranked 1-2, let alone two players from a relatively small town who just happened to be training partners with the same coach.
“It’s a difficult thing to quantify. It’s never happened,” said Goodall, who has 27 years of professional coaching behind his words. “There has never, in the Missouri Valley history, been two players from such a small town achieve so much and have such a high ranking.”
Lynn just graduated from Joplin High School and won the MSHSAA Class 2 championship last week. He’ll play for the Minnesota Golden Gophers next year.
Little, who finished second in a Level 2 national tournament in Midland, Texas, last month, will be a junior at College Heights this fall.
They both started playing tennis around age 6.
Lynn left Joplin in fifth grade to live with his father in Philadelphia.
Little, meanwhile, was quickly running out of worthy opponents — high schoolers and adults included — to challenge his developing game.
But then Lynn returned to Joplin four years ago to begin high school.
“There were a couple of high school guys and adults who could push me a little bit when I was younger,” Little said. “Then I got to the point where I was beating everybody in town pretty easily and (Lynn) came back here. We kind of made each other better.”
Lynn was important to Little’s development. Little was key in keeping Lynn in tennis altogether.
“Without Will I probably wouldn’t be where I am. I don’t know if I would even be playing tennis, honestly,” Lynn said. “Will is always trying to train hard. He pushes me sometimes because he definitely likes the working hard aspect more than I do. I’m lucky that the guy I work with has really good work ethic.
“I got lucky with Will and Ken. Ken is such a great coach.”
The constant in the duo’s development was Goodall, who had been working with Little regularly and would give Lynn lessons when he was in town to visit his family.
Goodall had coached Davis Cup and Fed Cup players from five countries. He owned a tennis academy in South America for eight years. He coached the Springfield Lazers of World Team Tennis.
In short, Goodall knows his stuff.
“It’s a matter of knowledge through experience,” he said. “When you put 27 years in and you coach in several countries, you get knowledge. And if you get players who will work and listen and they buy into what you’re saying, you can make good players.”
And that type of player is what Goodall found in Lynn and Little.
“That’s why Jeremy and Will are the two best players to ever come out of this area,” Goodall said. “It’s rare for players to have the talent and then have the financial backing, great parents and the coaching and then be disciplined enough, in today’s world with so many distractions, to concentrate on tennis.
“Lightning struck and everything came together. We’re a really good team. We work well together, we train well together.”