Steve Hudson faces a dilemma this year that he hasn’t encountered during his three seasons as Lawrence High’s boys tennis coach.
Does he break up his best doubles tandem from a season ago so they can occupy two singles spots in the lineup? Or does he stick with the same formula that led Taylor Seratte and Ryan Abbott to the Lions’ lone doubles appearance in the state tournament?
Decisions, decisions …
“I’ll have them test the waters in singles,” Hudson said. “If it turns out they’d rather play doubles, I’m OK with that. As seniors, I like to let them have a lot of say because it’s their last year.”
As it stands now, Seratte will play in the No. 1 singles slot — the same spot he occupied during his sophomore season.
Abbott, meanwhile, could play either No. 4 or No. 5 singles, but could move up if he continues to improve.
While both will begin this season in different roles, Hudson believes last year’s state tournament experience has proven invaluable.
“They have that level of confidence knowing that they belong,” Hudson said. “This year, they can hopefully pick up where they left off at the end of last year.”
The Lions also feature two more seniors on this year’s team: Thomas Zheng and Will Conley. Both are in the running for the final varsity singles slots, as are sophomores Connor Schmidt and Eric Long. Junior Michael Sang should fill the No. 2 spot.
Hudson noted the most improved player on the team was Byron Varberg, who was a top junior-varsity player a season ago. Varberg has worked his way up to the No. 3 singles slot in the varsity rotation this year.
LHS begins the season at 3 p.m. today at the Emporia Invite.
Free State High returns the city’s top singles player in junior Michael Swank, who took seventh at the Class 6A state tournament last season.
This year, however, he could see some competition for the top singles spot from a member of his own team and his own house.
That’s because the Swank family is hosting Paraguayan exchange student Rodolfo Gauto Mariotti as he finishes up this school year. Gauto Mariotti has pushed Swank during preseason practices in singles and likely will begin the season at No. 1.
While that could develop into a bitter rivalry for some, Free State coach John Richey said that wasn’t the case with Swank and Gauto Mariotti.
“They get along really well,” Richey said. “They train together and do everything together. They’re very different, but they do get along very well.”
Richey said that added depth would move the rest of his players down one notch, giving them a better opportunity to pick up victories during the season.
Joining Swank and Gauto Mariotti in the singles rotation will be Blaine Kaehr at No. 3 singles. Kaehr placed eighth at state in doubles last season.
Dravid Joseph also should crack the varsity lineup, as will ninth-grader Andrew Craig when the junior high season ends.
Still fighting it out for the No. 6 spot are senior Brock Norwood and sophomore Patrick Carttar.
Free State’s season starts Wednesday at the Topeka High Invitational.
At Seabury Academy, Scott Elwell returns for his second season as tennis coach.
Seabury features seven players on its roster, six of whom played for Elwell last season.
That experience should help play a vital role in the success of this year’s team.
“Last year, I felt like we were absolutely starting from scratch,” Elwell said. “This year, they have a feel for what’s going on and know what to expect.”
Among those players expected to contribute are Kansas Fiori-Brown, Skyler Malone, David Lawrence and Bill Gibbs.
“Those four guys will probably be fighting for the top four spots in some fashion or another,” Elwell said.
Also likely to crack the rotation are Peter Cooney and Guy Williams.
Elwell said he was pleased with the players’ progress, particularly their physical fitness.
He also said he expected significant improvement following last year’s inaugural season, which featured several bumps and bruises along the way.
“They’re all going in with the right attitude, trying to improve every day,” said Elwell, whose team does not have any seniors on its roster. “That’s how we plan to build the program, each year take small steps.”
Seabury will begin the season April 7 against Barstow.