By Jake Thompson firstname.lastname@example.org
Hendricks County Flyer
---- — As the tennis programs prepare to hit the court, there is uncertainty surrounding two teams while the other two squads bring back a bulk of their players from last season. Brownsburg heads into the year as the county and sectional favorite, but with improvement during the season, the Bulldogs could be challenged in the postseason.
The Bulldogs will be looking for a three-peat at the end of the season as they try to take their third straight sectional title.
With the amount of varsity players returning, it’s hard to see Brownsburg as anything but the sectional favorite at this point.
“We are very excited entering into this season given the amount of improvement we are seeing in our players thus far,” Brownsburg coach Karen Starkey said. “Our goal is to remain very disciplined and focus on one match at time.”
Brownsburg was composed mostly of sophomores and juniors last season. The Bulldogs bring back a savvy and experienced group of players that are very capable on the court.
Sam Gentry, Nathan Mehringer, Nick Wilde, Jon Class, Todd Class, Michael Clemens and Matt Irelan are all seniors that bring a lot of court experience to the Bulldogs.
Last season, Gentry was named all-conference, all-district, and all-state honorable mention and Mehringer was named all-conference, all-district, and all-state second team doubles.
“Sam has the most varsity experience, so he has been a natural leader… Nathan will be a key leader in doubles,” Starkey said. “Both Nick and Jon were all-conference last year so they are pretty gritty and well-seasoned competitors. Todd and Michael have had great success in the offseason as well and bring energy to our squad.”
Like most coaches, Starkey likes for the team to focus on the here and now and let that lay the foundation for the rest of the year.
“We will focus on one match at a time and work to improve from one outing to the next,” Starkey said. “If we improve at this rate, we should be quite competitive in the postseason. Our mental toughness will be a key factor.”
The Hoosier Crossroads Conference, like most seasons, should be one of the toughest, if not, the toughest, conference in the state. Brownsburg was last season’s HCC runner-up.
“We hope to be reaching our peak as we enter into the tournament weekend, and the seniors clearly know what is at stake and how much work it will take,” Starkey said.
The Quakers finished their season at the sectional final against Brownsburg last year, placed third in the Mid-State Conference and with an 8-9 record.
Plainfield graduated two varsity players and five seniors overall.
Plainfield coach Tony Epkey hopes the Quakers can improve on that record and finish with a sectional title, but understands the challenges ahead and said his team should be more prepared for those obstacles.
“Brownsburg has a strong team with mostly returning players like our team, so taking the title from them will be a difficult task,” Epkey said. “Many of our players did more offseason work this year on their own and this is the key to catching any strong team. Practices are off to a great start and I like what I see so far, we will have to wait and see if the results come from their work.”
Returning for Plainfield are seniors Brock Naaman, Jack Cavanaugh, Jacob Hopper and Evan Rink and each brings multiple years of experience back to the squad.
Naaman will hold down the No. 1 singles slot and Epkey said he “brings experience playing at the highest level of high school tennis.”
“Jack brings leadership qualities, is a natural player-coach and the guys respond most times when he has something to say,” Epkey said. “Jacob and Michael Bohney bring perhaps the most mental stability to the team and are like rocks when it comes to the court and mental toughness. Evan brings a higher level of intensity than anyone else on most days and when channeling that focus he is almost unstoppable at what he’s trying to accomplish.”
Nathan Mormino, Austin Vuurman, and Tyler West are three up-and-comers that could play a significant role for the Quakers this season.
“Nathan did more off-court work in the offseason than anyone else and that usually translates into confidence,” Epkey said. “Austin practiced more on his own in the offseason than he ever had before. Tyler is a tremendously gifted incoming freshman for us who may contribute at the varsity level this year and certainly has great potential for years to come.”
For the first time in more than 30 years, a different coach will be patrolling the area between Avon’s tennis courts. Robert Mize takes over for Stan Malless this season and understands he has big shoes to fill.
“The transition has been relatively smooth,” Mize said. “I had a great opportunity to work with many of the players this summer at tennis camp. Former coach Malless and current Athletic Director Brad Holsinger has been supportive since Day 1. I couldn’t have asked for better partners during this transition.
Seniors Mark Bode, Tyler Habig, Nick Fales, and Vitor Hara are expected to lead this season’s team.
The Orioles graduated five players from a year ago, opening up significant varsity minutes. Mize said his squad is very versatile and could play singles or doubles and that he’s made decisions on a majority of his open positions.
“Habig, juniors Nathan Kesling, Alex Meronk, and Nate Toney, and sophomore Ryan Lingle are currently locked into five of the seven top spots,” he said. “The team is so evenly skilled that they are currently battling it out for top varsity positions.”
Avon hosts five of its first six matches and also hosts the sectional and regional this season.
“This will give a very young team time to get their legs under them before going on the road for eight out of nine matches,” Mize said. “The goal is to be playing our best tennis at the end of the season. Since the sectional and regional are being played in Avon, we would love to make the most of home court advantage.”
Mize believes the keys to Avon’s success this year include “working on what we can control, limiting our double faults, improving our unforced error-to-winner ratio, keep our endurance at a high level, and staying focused during matches.”
Avon’s program is in good hands with Mize at the helm and with an abundance of talent coming through the ranks. The Orioles’ junior varsity team only lost twice last season and continues to push for varsity playing time.
“The team had a phenomenal season last year,” Mize said. “Although we lost five strong senior tennis players from a year ago, we have the next man up mentality. Some of those key players that may gain some varsity match experience this year are juniors Zach Van Duyn, Alex Shelley, and Philip Shirk, as well as sophomores Jared Reeder, Alex Collins, Sam Caskey, and Ryan Spear.”
Danville returns after finishing sixth in the Sagamore Conference last season and ending with a 4-10 overall record.
However, the Warriors were able to gain some much-needed playing time for their younger players as they graduated just two seniors, one at singles and the other at doubles.
The road to success for the Warriors will be a tough one, but coach Rick Foster believes his team will be up to the task if they put forth the proper effort.
“Work hard on fundamentals, compete everyday in practice and during matches and have mental toughness with a no-quit attitude,” he said of what it would take for the team to do well this year.
Improving on their conference finish may be a tall order for the Warriors as the top teams — Crawfordsville, Lebanon and North Montgomery — all return a bulk of their talented rosters.
Seniors Nick Newman and Austin Allen occupy the No. 1 and No. 2 singles spots, respectively. Seniors Nick Steinmetz and Daniel Dieckmann are the Warriors’ No. 1 doubles squad.
Foster said juniors Corey Clark and Jayson Stone will split time at singles and doubles and Zachary Saito will be at No. 3 singles.
“Nick is our only four-year player, but we expect all our seniors to be leaders,” Foster said.
With matches coming up next week, Foster has found several traits he likes about his squad and hopes they will use those as a foundation to build from as the year continues.
“(We’re) hard-working, have a never-quit attitude, and there is constant improvement with their game,” he said.
But the coach was quick to point out that despite having several upperclassmen, there is not a lot of overall experience on the court. Also, he said the team could benefit with better shot selection and needs some mental toughness.
Joining Foster as the assistant coach this season is Nick Kellum, the new Danville girls’ tennis coach in 2014.