Whether it was on the court or off, when Sikeston tennis players Jacarra Lampkin and Kelsey Dial get together they usually go about their business the same way.
"We play around," Dial said. "We're semi-serious, but we don't catch ourselves being real serious."
As they each laugh and shoot each other smiles on the court, they somehow find a type of focus within their looseness. When that mode is present, they usually play at their peak which is something Dial took notice of at the Class 1 state tournament last month.
"I noticed when we were at state in our first match, we played really uptight. When we played our second match we were kind of goofing off and laughing and we did really well," she said. "We just can't be serious out there. It makes us too uptight. When we're loose and having fun that's when we do our best."
It's a style that has worked for the doubles tandem the past two years and, this past season, has resulted in one state tournament appearance and a district championship.
"The first year (together) was new for both of us," Lampkin said about their partnership. "Then, the second year, she knew what to do and I knew what to do. We knew each other's strength's and weaknesses. We really clicked and worked very well together."
The duo may be the perfect pair.
They each know their place on the court. Lampkin, a senior, and Dial, a sophomore, have been playing together as a doubles team since Dial's freshman year. Although with just two seasons of experience, they know exactly what each excels at.
"I'm an offensive player," said Lampkin, "and she's defensive. She's better at the net and I'm better in back. We're kind of opposite."
"I just try to keep it in," Dial said. "Jacarra is definitely the offensive player. She's really, really good at backcourt. But, up at the net, that's where my strength comes in. It equals it out perfectly."
Their off the court relationship has helped build a strong rapport on the court which is crucial, according to coach Dial.
"When they get on the court they communicate well with one another, which is very important," said Sikeston coach Russ Dial. "Their chemistry off court has played a part in their on court abilities. It definitely helped them between the lines."
Although they began the season, admittedly, with a bit of a rough start, Lampkin and Dial played their best tennis when it mattered the most.
"At first we kind of started out rough," Lampkin said. "Then, building up, we got better. Especially, me and Kelsey in doubles."
They had already secured a place in the sectional round once they stepped onto the court in their district championship match against Charleston's Jasmine Spence and Gabrielle Quinn, but that didn't mean they wanted their district title hopes to flounder.
"We knew we were going to sectionals so that just gave us a boost to win it all," said Dial about the district tournament.
With their chilled style of play keeping them in focus, Dial and Lampkin swept the Class 1, District 1 doubles championship.
"They just seem to get really relaxed towards the end of the season," coach Dial said. "Once districts started getting close, they started focusing more in practice. I think they knew also they had a good shot at getting out. That helped motivate them.
"They become more relaxed and more focused at the same time."
They continued to play at their best through the next round at the sectional tournament which led to a trip to the Class 1 state tournament at the Cooper Tennis Complex in Springfield.
Although they fell in their first match of the state tournament, both Lampkin and Dial loved the opportunity.
"It was exciting," Lampkin said. "Even though we lost in the first round it was a great experience for both of us."
The Sikeston duo lost 6-0 and 6-1 to Christine Schlafty and Lauren DeRousse of Westminster Christian Academy, who eventually were this year's runner-ups.
Losing to Westminster put Lampkin in Dial into the consolation bracket where they rolled through the Rosait-Kain doubles team of Georgia Kaye and Catherine Sueme, 6-1 and 6-1. But a 6-2, 6-3 loss to Springfield Catholic in their next match was the end of their time together as doubles partners.
Lampkin and Dial spent all of this season as Sikeston's No. 1 and No. 2 singles players.
Throughout her four years as a Sikeston tennis player, Lampkin recalls when, as a freshman, she started on court No. 5 at the Sikeston Public Tennis Courts. As she progressed, Lampkin moved up court-by-court until her junior year when she took hold of the No. 1 court.
"I always played on the fifth court," Lampkin said about her freshman year. "It's kind of amazing how I moved down the courts and then played on court No. 1."
During her time as Sikeston's No. 1, coach Dial couldn't have asked for a better mentor for the rest of his team.
"I can't say enough about Jacarra," coach Dial said. "She's the most coachable player I've had, boy or girl. She'd run through a wall for me if I asked her to. She's been a leader. Losing her is losing a big part of this program. She's just been a joy to coach."
As a junior next year, it will be up to Dial to take the spot Lampkin has occupied and where she has watched her partner the past two years.
"The way that she plays, I'll try and follow it," said Dial. "She hits a lot of line shots and she's an aggressive player. I'm more defensive but I become more offensive when I'm playing with her."
"Kelsey has a lot of potential," coach Dial said. "She's not going to have Jacarra to team up with next year but, I'm hoping someone steps up and fills those shoes."
The departure of Lampkin will be a blow to Dial and the Sikeston team next year.
"Jacarra's my buddy," said Dial. "We did really well this year. I'm really going to miss her. It's not going to be the same."
And although the future of tennis at Sikeston High School will be without it's top player the past two seasons, Dial is hoping the success both her and Lampkin had in their two seasons together generates into a bit more interest for the sport she will be heading.
"Hopefully, it will provide a little bit more pride in the tennis program," Dial said. "People really don't care about tennis around here, but maybe since we won districts people will come out and watch a little bit more."