URBANA – Junior Katarina Marjanovic, The News-Gazette's reigning Area Player of the Year, is the stalwart for Urbana's girls' tennis team.
But if her teammates continue to make the type of progress they showed last weekend, the Tigers could have a productive autumn.
"We have a team of some veterans and some raw talent," Urbana coach Melissa Welch said. "They know how to play but don't have a lot of match experience yet. They made great strides from the beginning of Saturday morning to the end of Saturday (at the Downers Grove South Invite). Over time, I think we'll do pretty well."
Marjanovic, of course, returns as the top singles threat in the area, having reached the state tournament twice. She was seeded in the 17-32 range at last year's event and was defeated in the second round before earning another win in the consolation bracket.
With continued progress, Marjanovic could reasonably expect to earn a seed in the 9-16 range.
"Katarina has a lot of talent and potentially could do really well," Welch said. "I think she had a pretty good summer. She's ready to go. She's fired up."
After Marjanovic, the Tigers have an experienced No. 2 player in senior Alana Downie, "a firecracker," Welch said, for her competitive nature.
Junior Alison Shapira has moved up to No. 3 from her No. 6 spot a year ago. Sophomore Elise Ellinger takes over at No. 4 after gaining some doubles experience as a freshman.
The bottom part of the lineup has junior Christina Helregel at No. 5 and sophomore Jennifer Hart at No. 6. Helregel, Hart and junior Stacy Peters are relative newcomers who have impressed Welch.
"(The players at the bottom of the lineup) might be a little closer," Welch said. "Just getting some people a little bit of match experience might change how people do here and there, without letting nerves get in the way."
With Downie being the only senior in the top six, the Tigers are poised for an even better 2009. First things first, though.
"We'll see. You never know," Welch said. "We've improved. I always tell the girls it comes down to determination and attitude. What do we want? So far they've shown me they're ready to go and they want to do what they can. If they keep that up, who knows?"
Elsewhere in the Big 12
Defending sectional champ Centennial figures as a strong factor in the Big 12 Conference, returning five players who earned state tickets last fall. Seniors Megan Suchoff and Mary Kate Krouse qualified in singles, and senior Megan Mast and sophomore Maria Mears won the sectional doubles crown. Senior Shelby Mammano also qualified in doubles. ... Danville looks to rebuild around the No. 1 doubles team of seniors Lisa LeCleir and Alexis Julian. ... Sophomores Samantha Emery and Nelli Golmeeva hold the top two singles spots for Champaign Central.