The battle for the best boys tennis team in the Upstate Eight Conference could not have been much more competitive than it was a year ago, and all signs point to a repeat of that exciting race this spring.
While St. Charles North prevailed in the regular season in 2012, Batavia followed by winning the conference tournament. Then St. Charles East provided further proof of the depth by winning a sectional title.
This year both Batavia and Geneva welcome in new coaches while familiar faces return in St. Charles.
The North Stars are guided by coach Sean Masoncup whose team qualified a pair of doubles teams to state last year and finished in the top 20 in state after taking eighth and 11th the previous two seasons.
The North Stars went 16-4 in duals a year ago and are 99-13 under Masconcup but graduated eight seniors, seven of them all-conference.
While Danny Oakes is now on scholarship at Valparaiso, senior Dom Amalraj is a returning all-stater with a 75-11 career record.
"He has really stepped up his game this past offseason and taken the next step," Masoncup said. "He has been getting some Division I looks. Dominic will be our leader for sure with all the work he has put in. I'm really excited to see him play at a very high level this season."
The North Stars also bring back Grant Spellman who won two rounds at state last season and Keith Hedges, an all-conference selection.
"Grant put in a lot of time fine-tuning his game this past off-season which bodes well for our program," Masoncup said. "Keith has really come a long way since last season with his game."
Three freshmen will make their debut: Matt Ernst, Matthew Kramer and Trevor Kutzhals.
"All three look to play an important part of our rebuilding process," Masoncup said. "This season is definitely going to be a rebuilding season. But we are confident that we will put together a squad that will compete day in and day out. I think we might surprise some people this season because our kids are busting their tails and really putting in the time to have a great season."
Rob Livermore's Saints at St. Charles East went 14-4 last year and star junior Jasper Koenen, the individual sectional champ last season who made second team all-state and finished 27-5.
Senior Justin Bowman, the sectional runner-up a year ago, has qualified for state three times and went 28-4 last year. He has committed to play at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.
Sophomore Colin Jones, freshman Alex Winters, junior Steven Waynick, freshman Chris Horn and sophomore Nick Hauptman also will be in the lineup.
"Even though we graduated many seniors the team will be just as competitive this year as last year," said Livermore, pointing to goals the team has of contending for the conference title, defending the sectional title and qualifying multiple players for state.
Batavia tennis certainly will have a new look this spring. Not only has the school's all-time winningest player Josh Cogan moved on to Washington University, coach Bob Kummer retired.
Brad Nelson, Batavia's girls coach, has added the boys job to his duties and said it will be tough following Kummer, who Nelson called a "a coaching legend."
Nelson will go with junior Ryan Sterling at No. 1 singles, junior Tim Murat at No. 2, and freshman Drake Swift at No. 3.
On the doubles side, sophomore Adam Maris and junior Jeff Lordan will play No. 1 followed by sophomore Josh Boyle and freshman Andrew Nelson -- Brad Nelson's son -- at No. 2. Junior Joe Maenza and sophomore James Carr play third doubles with junior Tom Guillemot and freshman Emerson Hinzy at No. 4.
"We are a young team with no seniors in the starting lineup," Brad Nelson said. "Our doubles lineup is entirely different from a year ago and we have two new singles players. There are lots of unknowns right now, but I do think that we have lots of talent and if our doubles teams can click I believe we will be very competitive."
Sterling just missed qualifying for state the last two years and won 24 matches in 2012 while Murat is making the transition from doubles to singles.
Nelson likes the athleticism Maris and Lordan offer as a doubles team and their ability to chase down any ball. Maris won the River title last year at third singles.
Swift and Nelson both bring USTA experience. Hinzy also is a good athlete with a big serve.
After going 14-7 in duals last year, it will be interesting to see how Batavia's new faces fare.
"I am really looking forward to the season," Brad Nelson said. "Most of all right now we are looking forward to getting outside for the first time."
That's a sentiment certainly shared by a number of coaches. Like Nelson, John Nickelson is in his first year as Geneva's coach.
The Vikings return seniors Nick McCarty, Spencer Ankley and Peter Ogle; juniors Nick Huang, Ryan Doeckel and John Potts; and sophomore Brad Burgess.
Nickelson said newcomers vying for varsity slots include juniors Curran McQuilkin, Quade Spellman and Logan Tarczynski; sophomore Nick Simone; and freshmen Christian Fournier and Jacob Grootens.
"The returning members of the varsity provide a solid foundation with good experience," Nickelson said. "We expect to be competitive in conference and hope to send a couple of players to state."
Moving outside of the Upstate Eight, John Tsang's Marmion squad is coming off an undefeated season that included conference and sectional championships with four state qualifiers.
Senior Jackson Rettig, a two-time state qualifier with two separate partners the past two seasons, heads the returnees.
Juniors Kevin Hoss and Ricky Angsten -- an undefeated doubles team during the regular season last year -- also are back while freshmen John King and Luke Hoss should make names for themselves early in their high school careers.
"A deep lineup of seniors graduated last year but we still have a strong core of competitive players along with some new faces to take the torch this season," Tsang said.
Aurora Central Catholic, 7-13 last year, brings back its top two singles player, Matt Nass and Jared Cebulski. Overall four of the Chargers' top six are back, most with two to three years of experience.
Second doubles players Travis Exline and Rod Gil also return after playing second doubles last year.
Chargers coach Mike Cowen will work newcomers Kentaro Sasahara and Tatsuya Kano into the lineup.
"It should be one of our better teams," Camp said. "Top half of the SCC is our goal."
West Aurora has to replace its only state qualifier Matt Kuntzi, and the Blackhawks will turn to Kuntzi's younger brother Nick as its No. 1 player this spring.
"His goal is to qualify for the state tournament this year," West Aurora coach Adam Camp said.
Camp pointed to freshman Julian Merluzzi as one of the team's top newcomers.
"We want to finish at .500 as a team," Camp said. "We want to qualify at least one team for the state tournament."