TERRE HAUTE —
Considering that the four schools combined to win nearly 70 percent of their matches a year ago, and that two of the four were sectional champions, you’d expect the boys high school tennis hopes to be high in Vigo County and at Northview.
That’s certainly the case at Terre Haute South, where the Braves have all but one player back from a regional championship team, and also at West Vigo, where the Vikings also suffered just one graduation loss.
June was a tougher month at Terre Haute North, where four tennis regulars graduated, and Northview has a new coach — and a small turnout — as the Knights try to keep a sectional streak going.
Even if South is favored in its sectional matchup with the Patriots, however, history suggests the match will be a nail-biter regardless.
• Northview — Gene Engbino is the new coach of the Knights and has just eight players to work with, three of them freshmen.
Returnees from last year’s 15-6 team, which lost 4-1 to Fountain Central in regional play, are senior Kyle Moore and juniors Gaddis Baysinger and Damon Bass.
Moore and Baysinger, doubles players a year ago, are currently in the top two singles spots, while Bass teams with freshman Bryce Minor at No. 1 doubles.
Sophomore Ethan Linton plays No. 3 singles for the Knights, while the No. 2 doubles team is sophomore Brenden Ellis and freshman Nick Ganly. Another freshman, Tyler Leach, is trying to earn playing time.
“With so many freshmen, we’re working more on the basics right now,” said Engbino, whose team lost its opener 4-1 at Bloomfield on Wednesday and played North Central on Thursday.
“The juniors and seniors are good,” the coach continued. “We’re aiming for the sectional again.”
• Terre Haute North — Just three Patriots return from last year’s nail-biter in the sectional against the Braves, with junior Andrew Farmer moving up two spots to No. 1 singles and the doubles team of Keaton Akers and Justin Newton going from No. 2 to No. 1.
Perhaps making up for one of the graduation losses is the return of senior Grant Potts. A regular at No. 2 doubles as a freshman in 2010, Potts ran cross country the past two falls but is returning to the court and playing No. 2 singles.
Sophomore Harry Williams has a little bit of varsity experience and will be at No. 3 singles, while the No. 2 doubles team so far is senior Lucas Davis and sophomore Luke Dugger. Also vying for playing time are freshman Gil Saddig, juniors Andrew Colbert and Brandon Taylor and freshman Nick Sacopulos.
“We lost four seniors [from an 8-6 team] and that’s a pretty healthy loss,” coach Bob Denny said this week. “We’re a work in progress … we’ll see what we can do by the end of the year.”
Adding the two Bloomington schools — the Patriots lost their opener 3-2 to Bloomington North on Tuesday — makes a tough schedule even tougher, but Denny makes two promises.
“We will work hard and we will play hard every match,” he said.
• Terre Haute South — Asked about team goals for this season, coach Bill Blankenbaker had a quick one this week.
“Right off the bat we want to beat Center Grove [in the opener Saturday at Center Grove],” he said, the Trojans being both a Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference foe (for the last time) and a potential semistate foe on the same courts.
South could start the same lineup that finished the 2012 season at 15-4 with a semistate loss to Park Tudor in all but one spot. Junior Nathan Bogle and senior Krishan Kumar are back at the top two singles positions, while last year’s doubles teams — senior Reed Crawford and junior Scott Kellar at No. 1, junior Trace Harruff and sophomore Luke Yeagley at No. 2 — also return.
Blankenbaker’s lineups tend to be flexible until the coach spots something he likes, so those players could shuffle again for awhile this fall in a mix that also includes seniors Harrison Villarreal, Kyle Refugio and Ryan Chung and junior Matthew Gonzalez.
“I’m excited to see what lineup I can put together,” Blankenbaker said. “All of them have improved [since last season].”
Does that mean the Braves have improved as a team?
“I think we’ll be a lot better,” Blankenbaker said. “All summer [the 38 Braves on the team] have played a lot of tennis.”
• West Vigo — Coach Doug Tilford’s Vikings won their first three matches this fall in dominating fashion and expect to be a lot better than last year themselves.
That doesn’t mean the 2012 season was bad; the Vikings were 9-6 and finished second in the Western Indiana Conference, losing only to Northview, and have all but one doubles player back from their regular lineup.
Sophomore Kyle Watson returns at No. 1 singles and is the Viking with the most quality summer experience. Senior Blake Benefiel bumps up one spot to No. 2 singles and his younger brother, sophomore Logan Benefiel, takes over at No. 3.
Seniors Paden Horsley and Tyson Tolerson are the new No. 1 doubles pair, while senior Michael Vermillion will be joined by freshman Grant Kirby at No. 2 doubles. Sophomore Luke Whitford is pushing hardest for playing time among the 19 members of the team.
“We have a nice group, and we’ll be able to fill in [to replace this year’s seniors] for next year,” Tilford said.
“We have a lot of very positive goals, such as the conference,” he continued, “but we’ll play each match as they come.”