If there's something that makes life a little easier for a girls tennis coach, it's starting the season with your No. 1 player back on your roster.
So imagine being Kaneland's Tim Larsen.
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He's got that No. 1 back, Sammie Schrepferman, a junior who last year became the first Kaneland singles player to ever advance to state.
And to make life even better, Larsen also has his No. 1 doubles team returning. Madi Jurcenko and Angelica Emmanouil became the first Kaneland players ever to make all-state last year.
It's no wonder with that kind of talent that Kaneland went 15-2 and finished second in the Northern Illinois Big XII, one match behind first-place Sycamore.
And it's no wonder expectations are sky high again.
"We have great talent at the top of the lineup and a strong supporting cast," Larsen said. "We expect to be very competitive with every team we play throughout the season."
Kaneland also returns juniors Colleen Landers and Stephanie Karolewecz at No. 2 doubles. Seniors Kaylee Shoaff and Stephanie Zwick got varsity experience last year while juniors Mallory Dugan and Anna Wendling should be seeing a lot of time on the courts when the Knights go to a three-singles, four-doubles lineup.
"We expect great contributions from these girls for the lineup," Larsen said. "Both (Dugan and Wendling) have played with the team for three years and have worked hard in the off-season to be ready to play."
Larsen said for all the winning this group of players has done, they are just as good of student-athletes off the court.
"I really enjoy coaching them," Larsen said. "These girls work hard and compete hard, which makes a coach happy and proud, but they are also a great bunch of people to spend your time with. Great senses of humor, great morals. They're just good people. This team represents the Kaneland community very well."
Batavia is another area team with its top doubles team returning, senior Jennifer Mizikar and junior Amelia Cogan. The duo went 32-7 at first doubles last year, won conference and sectional championships and earned second team all state with their top-32 finish.
The two have been a big part of the Bulldogs' three straight Upstate Eight River Division titles. The program also has five straight undefeated conference dual records with a 48-3 record in conference since 2005. Batavia went 19-3 overall last year.
Mizikar, with a 95-17 career record, needs 21 wins to become the all-time victories leader at Batavia with 2011 graduate Hannah Potter holding the record at 115-30.
Junior Nora McClure went 20-6 at third singles last year and also won a conference championship. She'll move into the No. 1 singles position with senior Annie Maren, 18-15 last year at second doubles, also getting a shot at the top spot.
Juniors Megan Garvin and Ashlyn Turner should take the third and fourth singles spots, respectively.
Senior Brooke LeFevre was the other half of Batavia's No. 2 doubles team last year. This fall she'll have a new partner, junior Sydnee Unterberg who was 8-2 last year at fourth singles.
Newcomers to the Batavia lineup include senior Caroline Lantz and freshman Maddie Rea at third doubles, junior Holly Smorczewski and freshman Julianne Robinson at fourth doubles, juniors Shannon Gloudeman and Olivia Clarey at fifth doubles, and seniors Dana Krella and Riley Balogh at sixth doubles.
"Nora will share the No. 1 responsibilities with Annie," Batavia coach Brad Nelson said. "The key for us will be the play at No. 3 singles and No. 3 and No. 4 doubles, as all of the players in those positions will be playing their first matches at the varsity level. The two freshmen have tennis experience and are both two-sport athletes. Smorczewski and Lantz have had a solid summer and are poised to put together a great season with their freshman partners.
"I like our depth and athleticism and I believe we will be in the hunt when all is said and done. Geneva and St. Charles East bring back experienced teams, so we will have our work cut out for us."
The Vikings certainly are tough at the top with No. 1 singles player Kirby Einck, a junior who has advanced to state her freshman and sophomore seasons.
Margo Hess and Emma Hazel will play first doubles while freshman Grace Krueger is ready to play No. 2 singles.
"As a team we area strong at the top," Geneva coach Maureen Weiler said. "We're looking for the three and four positions to improve to have a good season as a team in conference."
Second in conference last year, Weiler said she expects the Vikings to be in the mix along with Batavia, St. Charles East and St. Charles North.
The North Stars only have one four-year varsity returnee this year, Kaity Wolfe. Three sophomores are returning: Morgan Rerko (currently injured), Brittany Rohrsen and Emma Spellman.
"We look to all three of those girls to be real contributors this season," North Stars coach Eve Tubman said.
The North Stars also have freshmen Breanne Warner and Shasha Anderson in the mix.
"We hope to expose them to a ton of match play so they can be a significant part of our future," Tubman said.
Tubman complimented the work ethic of junior Lianne Anderson and senior Micaela Mashca, who also will be in the lineup.
"Our goals this year are to make our players the best they can be. We will have to fight for positioning in our conference against the always strong Batavia, St. Charles East with its strong returning lineup, and the never to be left out of the equation, Geneva," Tubman said.
Seniors Haydyn Jones and Kelsie Roberton qualified for state for St. Charles East last year, winning their first match. They are two of the 12 seniors on a varsity roster that also has two juniors and a sophomore. Other returnees include Jamie Youngberg, Carly and Alexa Huskisson, and Sarah Church.
Rosary coach John Tsang has juniors taking three of his four singles spots -- Haley Van Dyke, Alex Carter and Maddy Deufel -- to join senior Rachel Bens.
In doubles, Rosary starts with junior Alexis Thomas and senior Sydney Zaragoza, then a pair of seniors Nelson Jenig and Ryane Jenig. Junior Michelle Lasota and senior Anne Duhig are also a team.
Aurora Central Catholic is coming off an 8-13 season, 2-6 in the Suburban Christian Conference.
Junior Alex Horton will play first singles after going 7-11, 4-4 last year.
The Chargers will play senior Jami Dahl and junior Courtney Decker at first doubles and juniors Sabrina Dudziak and Shannon McEachern at second doubles.
Coach Mike Cowen called sophomore Cori Dahl his top newcomer for a team that returns 11 of their top 12 players.
"I like this group a lot," Cowen said. "Alex is ready for a breakout year at first singles and our next five girls have worked real hard over the last 10 months and have improved greatly. Our goal this year is to break into the top half of conference."
West Aurora has a new coach, Baili Hernandez, and a familiar face at first singles, Emily Stefancic who finished 25th at state last year.
Stefancic, a senior, posted a 30-10 record last year and is 80-31 in her career. She is a 3-time state qualifier.
"Emily is a natural leader, talented, solid and hardworking athlete, she is dedicated to the sport always giving 110 percent," Hernandez said.
The rest of the Blackhawks' lineup includes second singles player Gabbie Hansen, and third singles Carley Frauenhoff, only a sophomore who went 16-16 as a freshman when she also won letters in basketball and softball.
"Carley is a great athlete, all-around player, she never gives up is always working hard for every point," Hernandez said.
Senior Becca Flynn also returns.
Hernandez, who started playing tennis when she was 9 years old being taught by her father in Peru, moved to Miami when she was 15. She has three brothers and a sister who all play tennis.
Hernandez eventually played varsity tennis at the University of Alabama for two years and later at the University of Florida. She has been teaching in District 129 for nine years.
The Blackhawks were 8-15 overall last year, fifth in the DVC. They have 34 girls out for the team and a new coach excited to see what they can do.
"I am looking forward to this season," Hernandez said. "We have a great group of hardworking and talented girls. It is very exciting to be a part of this tradition. I can't wait to see what the future may hold."
Follow John Lemon on Twitter @jlemonDH