The 2012 tennis season has an odd feel to it already.
The matches began last week with one team coming off its best season ever, but a repeat has to come from a new cast, while another squad has an old but new coach and one of the schools has a new court surface creating some extra velocity.
Oh, and there are two less divisions for the team portion of the state meet.
It should make for an intriguing season as the story lines play out over the next few months.
Instead of there being six team state tournaments, the AIA’s cost-cutting, new format has the same amount of teams bunched into four divisions.
The top three from each section (total of nine teams) will be automatic qualifiers into the 16-team bracket with the final seven coming from highest-rated teams in the power rankings.
The Mountain Pointe boys squad hopes to be one of them, but the Pride will have to do it without two of their top players from a year ago.
Sam Wang, who made it to the final eight in the 128-team singles tournament last year, transferred to Hamilton after the family moved, while Monty Roth will miss the early portion of the season because of a hand injury.
“Monty is a great competitor and, hopefully, the guys on the team step up in his absence,” third-year coach Larry Holmes said. “We have to try and get by for five or six matches and absorb the blow.”
The Pride has a talented junior class, including Roth as David Battock, Jonah Matany and Tyler Garrett step into higher spots on the depth chart to start out with the loss of last year’s top players.
“They know the expectations I have of them and they know how I operate,” Holmes said. “It should be a good transition.”
The players have also had to adjust to the new courts after the old one was resurfaced in the fall.
“The new courts are good and much faster,” he said. “The ball travels much quicker. It has been good and the kids love it.”
The Desert Vista boys might bring back the most experienced team with quality players in Sanjay Ramiah, Mohammad Saleem, Daniel Chen and Connor Whigham.
“We have no superstars, just great players that understand that it takes a team approach to win,” coach Wayne Brimley said. “We need more consistent play.”
Other players the Thunder will count on this year are Andy Cook, Michael Hopper and Karun Ramesh.
The Desert Vista girls are coming off a banner year as the Thunder finished third in the state after never making it to the semifinals.
A lot of the experienced talent is gone, but coach Angel Singer hopes last year’s state experience motivates the younger players to attain similar success.
“It is going to be a struggle for young players to learn how to win,” Singer said. “I am hoping that the experience of last year follows through to this year and the girls remember the great feeling of winning.”
It starts with seniors Jennifer Kahn and Carolyn Rath, while sophomore Tori Kazzermel should round out the top singles players. Freshman Melissa Kahn will team with his older sister to be one of the top doubles teams for the Thunder.
“The returning players we do have are strong players,” Singer said. “They will be better because they’ve made it through the rigorous state championships.”
The Pride girls have an old new look this year as former boys coach Dan Ray returns to take over the program after Rick Carter stepped down after last season. Ray had previously coached the Pride’s boys team until stepping down after the 2009 season.
He has some in-house talent to work with as juniors Mae Maiefski, who made it to the final eight last season in singles, and Anastasia Pushkarenko return as Mountain Pointe’s top players. He also has some young talent to work with in freshmen Carla Poplawsky and Viann Pham.
“We have good depth,” Ray said. “I would like to make it far into the state playoffs.”
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