WARSAW – The members of the Warsaw boys tennis team understand the proud tradition of the program.
Coach Rick Orban has already had that talk with his talented, but inexperienced, group this preseason.
“We’ve already talked about it,” said Orban of the past success of the program. “The kids get it. They understand.”
The Tigers went 14-6 a year ago with Northern Lakes Conference, sectional and regional championships along the way. Warsaw ended the season with a 5-0 loss to Penn in the semi state.
Orban must replace four seniors from a year ago, including Kyle Wettschurack (No. 2) and Evan Miller (No. 3) in his singles lineup and the No. 1 doubles tandem of Nikos Schlitt and Will Petro.
“The experience factor of those guys is what we will truly miss,” said Orban. “We had guys who were three and four year starters on our varsity.
“But we have an extremely deep and talented team this year. We’re just inexperienced. But I love the attitudes and the competitiveness of these guys.”
The cupboard is far from bare for Orban. The Tigers return the stellar senior trio of Sam Rice, Nic Jansen and Caleb Ray to lead the way. Rice played No. 1 singles last year, while Jansen and Ray, who returned from an injury, were the No. 2 doubles team at season’s end.
“We have a lot of young guys, but they have a lot of potential,” said Rice. “I will feel confident going into most of my matches this year. I was happy with last season. But, I’ve worked a lot on smart play and patience with my game. Mentally, I’m a completely different player now than last year.”
Orban sees plenty of competition and lineup changes among his squad this fall.
“The competition for spots is wide open and these guys will push each other all season,” Orban stated. “Our top 12 players this year are as close in talent as any team I’ve had. Our lineup will change throughout the season. That’s almost guaranteed.”
Some of the players early on who could factor in the mix for varsity playing time include junior Christopher Herendeen and sophomores Ryan Wettschurack, Andrew Gauger, Justin Stout, David Homme and Hudson Snyder.
Warsaw opens the season at Westview Aug. 19.
Warriors Building, Competition Stirring
Wawasee head coach Vince Rhodes has a nice problem on his hands entering 2014. The second-year skipper has 15 kids in the program and a solid core of returners.
Senior Todd Hauser should slot into the No. 1 singles position after playing No. 2 singles for most of last year. Junior Cal Heinisch, who leads all returning players in wins with eight, should move up to No. 2.
After that, Rhodes isn’t fully committed to a lineup but is sure of about six to eight players who should fill those gaps. Rhodes likes what he has seen from sophomore Nate Perek and senior Jake Hutchinson as a potential at No. 3, and newcomer Derek Stutzman, who played soccer for three year, will try his senior hand at tennis and has showed promise.
Bunched into potential on the doubles courts are Hutchinson, seniors Brayton Fretz, Leonard Kline and Tyler Rhodes as well as sophomore Nate Haines.
“We’ve been battling for positions all summer, and I like it,” Rhodes said. “We have about six kids who are all in about the same place and some freshmen that played all winter, too. We still haven’t figured out exactly where some kids will play yet.”
Wawasee opens its competition season Aug. 18 hosting Manchester.
Despite some key losses, Triton coach Al Peckham likes what he has seen from his team so far.
“We had some questions this year with the players we lost, but we’re getting better,” said Peckham. “I expect us to have another good season.”
The Trojans finished 11-6 in 2013, one of their top seasons in quite some time. The team lost four players to graduation, including No. 1 singles player Dean Howdeshell and a strong No. 1 doubles team of Lucas Shafer and Darrin Harrell.
Senior Jared Fisher will move from No. 2 to the top singles spot this fall for the Trojans. Junior Gavin Eades is tabbed to play No. 2 with senior Spencer Glingle at No. 3.
The Trojans will look to seniors Austin Sellers and Alex Eib at No. 1 doubles. The No. 2 team is expected to be senior Ben Wagoner and junior Dalton Bailey.
“I think we will still be a strong team, it just depends on the match ups,” said Peckham, whose team was conference runner-up to Knox last year.
Triton opens the season at Rochester on Aug. 21.
Wildcats, Vikings Looking For Improvement
Both Whitko and Tippecanoe Valley will look to make strides this season with small and inexperienced teams with both programs also sporting new coaches.
Chris McGehee takes over at Whitko and is looking to the future as he has just seven players right now.
“My goal is to try and build the program,” said McGehee. “We are trying to build a foundation. We have athletic guys, but not much tennis experience. We’re working a lot on fundamentals.
“It’s not about the wins and losses for us right now. I want to see us improve as the season goes and I hope to build some consistency.”
Senior Cole Bechtel will play No. 1 singles for the Wildcats.
“Cole is our most experienced player, our leader and the rock of our team,” McGehee said.
The Wildcats have four sophomores and a freshman among their seven players.
Tippecanoe Valley graduated five of its top seven players from a year ago, including its entire singles lineup.
“We are very young and inexperienced,” said Valley first-year coach Jack Shambaugh. “We will learn as we go this season.
“It’s a good group to work with. And we will get nothing but better as the season progresses.”
Wyatt Nelson is slated to hold down the No. 1 singles spot for the Vikings to open the season. Others in the mix include Trevor Neeley and Nick Caudill.
Whitko plays at Fort Wayne Northrop and Valley hosts Bremen in season openers on Aug. 19.