Kroner's spring preview: Boys' tennis
Numbers are not an issue at Central, and neither is who will be the Maroons' singles leader. Sophomore Austin Aten, who won more than 80 percent of his matches at the No. 1 position as a freshman, is back at the top. He was 25-6 a year ago, when he was a sectional champion. He is one of 30 squad members on coach Scott Davis' roster. Current seniors Ryan Smith and Sam Wampler were doubles state qualifiers last spring and have been three-year fixtures among Central's top six. Also seeking to crack the lineup is senior Jun Yoo, as well as his freshman brother, Michael. Jun Yoo is one of the school's most improved players, according to Davis. Gabe Mitchell is a promising sophomore, and another freshman with potential to see varsity time is Erik Nam. "We have a nice balance of experience and youth," Davis said. "I think we should have a good season. We will field a strong squad."
St. Thomas More
Like Central, the Sabers had a freshman state qualifier in singles in 2011. Travis Tressler, who was 12-9 at No. 1 singles as a high school rookie, placed third at sectionals. He'll be an anchor on a team coached by his father, Jim, but the sophomore is hardly the only headliner back. Five of last year's top six singles players return. Brian Fallon and Sean Monahan are the most experienced seniors. Fallon played No. 2 singles last year, and Monahan joined current junior Nathaniel Thomas at No. 2 doubles. The third-year program continues to see a rise in numbers. After starting with 15 in 2010, there were 23 last year and 27 this season. "This will be the deepest team we've had," Jim Tressler said. "We should have eight or nine players who can contribute right away. There are many players who are similar in level, so we'll have various players in the singles lineup and a variety of doubles teams." Home matches are at Atkins Tennis Center.
Second-year Charger coach — and first-year head coach — Gordon Kay expects a banner season. "I think we should hopefully be in position to compete for the Big 12 title if we work hard and have the right attitude over the next six weeks," Kay said. The school retains the majority of last year's top 10, including two who had at least .500 records, senior Jeffrey Lazuka and junior Peter Kim. Three standout freshmen are projected as immediate contributors. Two of them, Sunny Singh and Max Zheng — whom Kay calls "high-level players" — teamed up for two matches at No. 1 doubles in last weekend's Metamora tournament. Andrew Skaggs is another promising ninth-grader. Helping work with the 40-member roster is assistant Chad Simpson, a Danville native who played four years of Division I tennis at Liberty University. Kay is no novice to the sport, either. He has taught tennis in town for 25 years.
First-year coach Eric Free — an assistant in boys' basketball — is working with a veteran group. Five of last year's regulars return: junior Tyler Ellis, sophomore Logan Nelson, senior Matthew Kidwell, senior Yanis Mokraoui and senior Love Shah. Ellis and Kidwell teamed up for a 25-10 doubles mark last season. Ellis was 10-4 at No. 1 singles. Mokraoui had a 16-5 singles mark. Shah and Nelson played doubles together and were 8-3. In all, Free has a 12-member roster. With a limited background in tennis, the Bismarck-Henning graduate needed convincing to take over the program. "At first, I didn't think I would be doing the kids justice by taking the job," he said. "However, what I lack in tennis knowledge, I make up for with the ability to motivate, instill confidence and get kids to work hard. I'm a quick learner, and a lot of people at the high school have been sharing their experience with me."
Third-year coach Nate Chattic has 17 underclassmen among his 23 squad members. Returning players are Grant Allen, Sami Messai, Theradej Nasueb, Mark Peterson, Matt Peterson, Corbin Rosset, Akena Sponsler, Dmario Turner, Macio Zelip and Charlie Zheng. "The nice thing about this group is that they are so familiar with each other, and they get along pretty well," Chattic said. "I have seen them grow since they started, and the hard work that they have put in to improve is coming forth in their play." It be may a while before there is clear-cut possession of spots on the singles' ladder. "There's not too much of a significant separation from the No. 1 and No. 2 players to the No. 3 through No. 6," Chattic said. "I see the opportunity for guys to really step up and earn their spot. We have challenge matches in our practices, and truly, on any given day, it's anyone's match to win or lose because so many of our guys are so close in ability." Urbana's assistant coach is Chris Gratkins.