Hatchets Look to Re-Load
Veteran Washington head coach, Jason Johnston, has one primary goal in mind as the fall tennis season begins to take shape; that is, avenge last year’s close sectional loss and re-gain the Vincennes Sectional spoils. Gone to graduation is No. 1 singles player Jon Rook and teammate Nate Napier; however, a slew of returnees dot the line-up for a squad that managed a 14-6 slate last October.
Johnston looks to junior Zach Gray to make the jump from the second singles to No. 1. Johnston stated, “I know he will be a competitor and compete at a high level as will his brother.” Gray’s twin is Owen, penciled in to begin the year at two singles after moving over from the two doubles side a season ago. Three singles is a toss-up as senior Drake Harman and freshman Brycen Neidigh battle for a spot.
The Hatchets return their No.1 doubles duo in senior Austin Gere and junior Braden Kixmiller. The other doubles spot consists of Jacob Rice and Jaylyn Rook though Johnston points out, “This line-up is not set in stone. We have a lot of good players that are challenging the top seven every day at practice.”
Besides the aforementioned grouping, another nine racket-handlers, including senior Kiowa Jones, give Johnston a healthy 16 in the fold. Washington winds up their final season in the Big Eight Conference as the Hatchets head to PAC play beginning next school year. As always, Jasper awaits as does defending sectional champ Vincennes Lincoln. Washington shellacked Sullivan, 5-0, in their season opener on Monday.
Barr-Reeve banks on experience
Brock Higgins claimed a Blue Chip Conference championship in his inaugural season at the helm of Barr-Reeve boys’ tennis. The coach would have gladly traded the BCC trophy for a sectional trophy, though, as conference rival Loogootee thinly escaped and vanquished the Vikes in last year’s sectional title match. Higgins said goodbye to several seniors including top doubles tandem Isaac Wagler and Gage Wilson.
Higgins does return five of his top seven from a season ago, including all three singles positions. Interestingly, those players have shifted spots over the summer as the team looks to continue their success on the hardcourts. Brycen Graber, a junior, assumes the No. 1 spot, moving from three singles a year ago. His sophomore brother, Kayden Graber, goes from one to No. 2, and senior Nate Hunt takes a step back from two to play in the No. 3 singles spot.
Back at one doubles is hard-hitting junior Tommy Kidwell. Another smasher, sophomore Aaron Wagler, joins him while Kidwell’s playing partner from last year, junior Logan Graber, falls back to two dubs with Wagler’s classmate, lefty Hagen Knepp. While the doubles could rotate to find the best combination of the pairs, the top seven seem to have established themselves for the time being.
Higgins commented, “We are hoping to defend our Blue Chip Conference Championship along with giving ourselves a chance at the Sectional, but we also know that it is not going to be easy.” Higgins’ troops have their work cut out after fashioning a glittering 18-2 record during last year’s campaign. All five spots won in straight sets over visiting Bedford North Lawrence on Monday afternoon; their match with Linton on Tuesday was washed out. B-R travels to Washington on Thursday for an early road test.
Cougar Tennis sees Youth Movement
A season ago, a trio of seniors occupied the top two singles spots as well as a number one doubles slot for a veteran North Daviess boys’ tennis outfit. Lost via graduation were Garrett Huff, Landon Mokris, and Tyler Dunbar. There is some new blood in the pipeline, however, for fifth-year coach Stephne Beard, and her sister and assistant, Stacey Berry, as three freshmen have cracked the varsity line-up in the fall of 2019.
The upstart frosh include Jaylen Mullen, who will take over at No. 1 singles for the departed Huff. Sophomore Markus Britton moves up from third singles to No. 2 while Mullen’s classmate Colin Kemp occupies the third singles position.
One seasoned senior letter-winner who holds down a one doubles spot is Aric Wade. Wade will partner with a third freshman Brecklin Byrer. Another sophomore, Brooks Helms, is currently slated as a No. 2 doubles returnee. Senior Hayden Parisien and rising sophomore Devin Collins continue to compete for the last doubles position. A third senior, Nate Coney, provides the team with depth.
The youthful racket squad counts 14 players on the courts this fall. Beard, who won a sectional in 2017 before coming up short in last year’s campaign at the hands of Bloomfield, has bolstered the schedule with a full slate of matches for the first time.
Beard referenced the defending SWIAC and sectional champ Cardinals as well as neighborhood rivals, Washington, Barr-Reeve and Loogootee, looming at the top of the area tennis fold along with Northeast Dubois. New additions to the schedule include the likes of Southridge, Bedford, Evansville Mater Dei, and Evansville Reitz.
The Cougars claimed 5-0 wins in their first two matches versus Edgewood and Wood Memorial respectively. North Daviess hosts Owen Valley on Thursday and will stage their inaugural tennis invite on Saturday, when Paoli, Brownstown Central, and Evansville Harrison trek to Tony Steele Courts.
Lions look to defend sectional
Hall-of-Famer and Loogootee tennis coaching guru, Rick Graves, certainly enjoyed his swan song last October. Within the tennis complex that bears his name, Graves wrapped up another sectional title for the Lions. The hard-fought match, which LHS claimed 3-2 over Barr-Reeve, preceded another victory in the regional semi’s versus Bloomfield. Jasper knocked Loogootee out of the IHSAA tourney in the regional final as Graves coached his final match, closing out a stellar career with more than 500 total wins between both the boys and girls side.
Graves’ last group finished 19-2, equaling the school record for team wins set the year prior in 2017. Gone but not forgotten are graduated twins Max and Sheldan Christmas and their classmate Bailey Dearwester. Long-time girls’ coach as well as coaching colleague and friend of Graves, Mike Tippery, landed the Lion gig, and his squad is anything but inexperienced this go-round.
The Loogootee line-up looks to shake out with Jordan Wildman moving from one doubles to assume the top singles spot while twin brother, Jalen, stays in the two-hole where he has accumulated a 42-5 slate the past two seasons. Nathan Seals currently slides back in at three singles where he played a year ago.
The doubles combo of senior Sebastian Toy and sophomore Luke Nonte look very solid. Two doubles players, Jayden Leatherman and Bryant Eckerle, along with freshmen Kage Lyon and Peyton Bledsoe also challenge the current top seven as do senior Lawson McCloskey and sophomore Rory Tippery. Tippery remarked, “Nothing is set in stone. Anyone in our top 11 can play singles or doubles. We are going to spend the early part of the season moving guys around to find the best overall combinations.”
Loogootee finds itself in the middle of another annual Blue Chip Conference and sectional war as Barr-Reeve and Northeast Dubois once again re-load. A year ago, the Vikings ruined LHS’s opportunity at a perfect regular season record before the Lions exacted revenge in the post-season. LHS also schedules Evansville North and Evansville Memorial and participates in the eight-team Silver Creek Invitational. Tippery concluded, “The strength of our team is in our depth and line up flexibility.”