The 2011 girls tennis season will boast a strong group of returning veterans, a large number of new faces in key roles, as well as new courts where they were needed most.
Batavia should be the team to beat, lead by a slew of returning players from last year's squad that finished 22-1, won the Upstate Conference River Division title, and finished second in its sectional.
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"I'm really excited about this team," Batavia coach Brad Nelson said. "We have talent and experience, and the girls worked hard during the off-season to make themselves better players."
Miranda Grizaffi, a state qualifier a year ago after finishing with a 26-0 record, will be at the top of the singles lineup. Grizaffi, a junior, won two matches at the state tournament and will be a favorite to make a return trip this season.
Sophomore Liza Freundt is already off to a 4-0 start after posting a 23-0 mark last year. The talented sophomore will be moving up to No. 2 singles. Tamar Norville, a senior, will round out what should be a formidable singles lineup.
The doubles side should be just as strong, led by seniors Hannah Potter and Kaitlin Mills at No. 1.
"Hannah and Kailin are captains, and they've looked great so far," Nelson said. "They're going to be a force."
The second doubles duo is much younger, as sophomore Jenny Mizikar teams with freshman Amelia Cogan.
"They are young, but they're also very talented and experienced tennis players," Nelson said.
Sophomore Brooke Lefevre and senior Karissa Schroeder will play third doubles, and Hanna Maddox and Allison Grendzinski, both seniors, are slotted at fourth.
The Bulldogs began their season by winning 20 of 21matches at the West Aurora Quad, and Nelson hopes that's a sign of things to come.
"The key will be our threes and fours," Nelson said. "All of them can hit the ball as well as our ones and twos, they just need to be more consistent."
While every team is always searching for more consistency, St. Charles North has already achieved it in another sense. Not with the players on the courts, though that may well come with time, but rather with the courts themselves.
Throughout the program's history, the quality of the tennis facility at St. Charles North has been a major issue and, at times, posed a significant challenge. Water seepage has regularly led to slow drainage after there's been rain, and the appearance of puddles well after storms have come and gone, which has resulted in "rainouts" on perfectly sunny days.
The North Stars have new courts, and no matter what happens the rest of the way, the season is already a success on one level.
"The courts are beautiful, and there's a lot of excitement about them," St. Charles North coach Eve Tubman said. "We had to wait a little while for them to be ready and open, but it was well worth the wait."
That excitement should quickly shift to the team itself, led by Brittany Plaszewski, who is back after taking a year off from high school tennis to focus on playing in USTA competitions.
"Brittany has more variety in her game now, she's stronger, and has a much bigger serve," Tubman said.
Jessica Szymanski, a senior, and sophomore Katie Wolfe are competing for the No. 2 singles spot, with the other ultimately playing third.
"They're both very good players," Tubman said. "It's just not clear yet who will end up where."
The North Stars will rely heavily on their top two doubles teams.
Ashley Randazzo and Faith Oehlerking, both juniors, are slotted at No. 1, while senior Kate Lesswing will pair with junior Alex Duncan at No. 2.
The rest of the lineup is in flux, but Tubman has been impressed by what she's seen from senior Alli Dunklau and junior Abby Kloberdanz.
"They've got a lot of good chemistry together," Tubman said.
Kelly Mehan and Maddie Smith at No. 4 cap an early season lineup that remains a work in progress.
"We haven't had a lot of practice time so far, so I'll be trying the different things as we get into the season," Tubman said.
Across town, St. Charles East's entire season could be a work in progress as graduations left coach Sena Drawer with a talented but young squad, and a number of questions to answer.
Senior Catey Efler is expected to step up into the top singles spot after alternating between first and second last year. Sarah Church, a sophomore, will likely play No. 2 singles and could see some time at doubles during weekend tournaments. Renu Varadheeswaran, the Saints' top freshman, will round out the singles lineup.
"(Varadheeswaran) is a nice player with a lot of USTA experience in her background," Drawer said.
Haydyn Jones and Kelsie Roberton, a pair of sophomores, will be making the leap from fourth doubles, where they were conference champs a year ago, to the No. 1 spot.
"It will be a challenge for them, but they're excellent players, and I believe they can handle it," Drawer said.
The rest of the doubles lineup is still taking shape. Morgan Nosalik, a senior Drawer describes as "solid and steady," played third doubles last and could team up with Jamie Youngberg, a sophomore, who plays singles and doubles equally well.
Drawer has 13 players to fill 11 lineup spots, so the rest of the doubles field will be made up of some combination of seniors Claire McCarthy, Claudia Morenci, and Jennifer Macchia, and juniors Meghan Cauthier, Kellie Sciurba, and Lauren McNally.
"I'm going to mix up the lineup, take a look at it, and see what works best, who steps up, and where we have chemistry," Drawer said. "Our goal is to do as well as we did last year. A third-place finish in conference would make for a successful season."
Geneva's success will, in large part, depend on a very talented freshman. Kirby Einck steps into the top singles position, following in the footsteps of outstanding freshmen who have filled those shoes for the Vikings in the past.
"She's a great, dedicated player," Geneva coach Maureen Weiler said. "She's been playing for a long time, and she's solid, consistent, and relaxed on the court."
Stafanie Sharpe, a senior who played doubles and singles last year will be at No. 2, while freshman Emma Hazel will take on the duties of playing third singles.
"Emma has a lot of ability," Weiler said. "She just needs more experience, and she's going to get some right away."
Team captains Emily Malecha and Carly Ausman, both seniors, will form the Vikings's top doubles duo. Nora Burkhardt and Michaela Simone, another pair of seniors, will play second doubles, while sisters Kelsey Hess, a junior, and Margo Hess, a sophomore, will be at No. 3.
Juniors Olivia Block and Joanie Educate will complete Geneva's doubles lineup.
"Our conference is going to be tough," Weiler said. "We're just hoping we can be deep enough to get some wins."
Team depth may not be too big of an issue for Rosary, but an overall lack of experience and a difficult early schedule could prove challenging, as the Royals work to rebuild.
"We have a lot of new players on the squad this year, and a lot of players with similar skills," coach John Tsang said.
Senior Allison Stephans moves up from second singles to the top spot this year, while second singles remains unsettled, though Megan Conlin, a freshman, could end up filling that role.
"We're looking for Megan to do some good things and help us solidify our lineup," Tsang said.
Mary Beth Lilliwitz, a sophomore, could also see some time on the singles side.
Sisters Andrea (so.) and Micah (sr.) Goyao, who Tsang calls "The Go Twins," will move up to No. 1 doubles after posting a 20-4 record at No. 2, and just missing making it to state last season.
"They're very smart players who make opponents really work on the court," Tsang said.
Kelcey Arnold, a senior, and junior Paige Robinson will pair up at second doubles.
"I temporarily put them together as a team last year," Tsang said. "I'm looking forward to seeing what they can do now."
Seniors Junelly Gonzalez and Elizabeth Knebel are penciled in at third doubles.
"We have a team that is very eager to learn, and it's going to be fun to coach them this year," Tsang said. "I'm looking forward to seeing what we can accomplish. I think we're going to give everyone a good run for it."
West Aurora finished third in the DuPage Valley Conference a year ago. How high they finish this season may depend on how quickly their less experienced players develop.
The singles lineup will be a major strength for the Blackhawks. Emily Stefanic is back at first singles after an impressive freshman season. Haley Henry, a junior who finished second in the conference at No. 2 last year, returns, as does third singles conference champ Jin Lee, a senior.
The doubles side remains in flux, though senior Liz Held and junior Kaolin Sewell have been impressive in the early going.
"They've looked very good together, and have excellent chemistry," West Aurora coach Brian Brooks said.
Victoria Sewell, who like her twin sister is a junior, has been impressive, and could see action at singles or doubles.
"Victoria has the potential to be a very good singles player," Brooks said.
But the rest of the doubles lineup remains unsettled. Players still in the mix include seniors Hannah Spaar and Lindsay Thanadabouth, junior Emily Brown, and sophomore Rebecca Flynn.
"We need our doubles teams to come together," Brooks said. "Last year we were above .500, and I believe we can get there again. We'd like to end up in the top half of the DVC, and get more than three kids to state."