Prep tennis season opening soon
As tennis season starts up next week, teams across the county are starting with a clean slate and dreams of district titles.
Here is a breakdown of the four local teams in District 3-A/AA and District 2-AAA:
The Pigeon Forge Tigers will be looking for their third-straight league title, while the Lady Tigers will be trying to get over the hump of two-straight runner-up finishes.
The team will do it with a plethora of skill through the ranks.
“I’ve got quite a bit of experience back,” head coach John Griffis said Tuesday. “We’re really deep on the boys’ side. We’re 12-deep on boys; and 11 of that 12 already have playing experience at the varsity level. I’ve had teams with a lot of seniors, but not as many players with experience.”
Included among those 11 are Alex Delozier and Garrett Byrd, the Tigers’ one and two-seeds from last season and the state’s runner-up doubles team.
Delozier just signed with Milligan College and both players earned All-State accolades with their success as a doubles team last season.
Add to them Gabe Camacho and Ben Vaughan, two very experienced players, Chad Gibson, Brandon McCarthy and Cale Bramer, and you’ve got the makings for a very good Tigers squad yet again this season.
On the girls side of things, one-seed Sunni McAllister leads a talented pack of girls — including Shelby Huskey, Kassidy Huffaker, Dhara Patel, Jordan McCarthy and Hailey Dominique — that Griffis believes will be competitive at the top of the district.
“I believe they’re going to be really competitive in the district, but of course Grace Christian is going to be really strong,” he said.
The Lady Tigers have been runners-up to GCA two years in a row.
“They’ve been our nemesis,” Griffis said.
This year also marks a return to their home courts for Pigeon Forge, who played last season at Gatlinburg’s Mills Park while work was done on the grounds at Pigeon Forge.
“They’ve opened up the new Pigeon Forge tennis park over here,” Griffis said. “All the courts are lighted.”
The new digs will also give the Tigers a distinct home-court advantage when the postseason rolls around.
‘We’re going to host singles and doubles (district) tournament; the team district tournament and region tournament,” Griffis said.
County and 3-A/AA rival Gatlinburg-Pittman also returns some quality players from last season and hopes to make noise this year in the conference.
The Highlanders boys team, which finished 2nd in district behind PF last year, returns four of their top six seeds.
Gone, however, are top-seed Aaron Meyers, the district’s singles champ from a year ago, and fifth-seeded Sebastian Fowler.
Junior Tanner Cox (last year’s two-seed), senior Patrick Patel (last year’s three), junior Tucker Shultz (fourth), and junior C.J. McFalls (sixth) all return to lineup with the addition of three new faces — Tilon Simms, who was unseeded last year, sophomore Raj Bhula, who’s never played on the high school team, and Ben Roberts, a freshman.
Coach Bob Mason, who’s not sure yet as to this year’s seeding, thinks his team will be among the top half of the district.
“We hope (to compete for the top),” Mason said. “(But) Pigeon Forge will be loaded again, and Grace Christian will be very competitive.”
The Lady Highlanders team that finished fourth in the district in 2012 return their top seed from a year ago, senior Claire Troxler.
“Claire is pretty athletic and she’s got the competitiveness that I wish some of the other kids would have,” Mason said. “In fact sometimes her competitiveness boils over, I wish I could take some of that and spread it around to the other kids.”
Joining Troxler in the girls lineup will be returning three-seed Megan Valle, a senior, and sophomores Katherine Miller and Lexi Hanson. They played as the fifth and sixth seeds last season.
“With the girls, from there down we’re pretty much picking a rabbit out of a hat,” Mason said. “(But) we had 16 or 18 sign-up to come out, so numbers aren’t a problem.”
The strength for the Smoky Bears this season could be on the girls’ side of the ledger.
While the Sevier County men’s team returns only three players from a year ago, seven will return for the Bearettes squad.
“They’re experienced,” coach Stacy Marine said. “It’s a competitive district in girls tennis with Jefferson County and Morristown West — they’re really good in girls tennis — but at least we’ve got some girls that have played three or four years and hopefully that will play dividends.
“I feel good, we’ve got a good solid girls group coming back.”
That group is led by senior Sidney Finchum, an all-district player from a year ago, and the team’s No. 1 seed.
The Sevier County Bears lost two seniors to graduation, Aaron Grayson and Michael Moore, but return their top seed in junior Will Jones, who was also all-district.
“Will’s got an opportunity to be pretty good,” Marine said. “He’s got to continue to do better, but I think he’s got an opportunity to go on and play (collegiately). He’s got two years to do that.”
Beyond Jones, SC will have to rely on upperclassmen Will SOuth and Spencer McCroskey and a trio of newcomers.
“It’s just enough to field a team,” Marine said.
Meanwhile, in Seymour, there’s a new head coach and all the old players.
The team’s previous coach, Kristy Wallen, stepped up to become the school’s principal, and her assistant, Brandi Stallings — the girls head basketball coach — has taken over tennis.
“I’m maintaining the status quo with the groundwork Ms. Wallen has laid the last few years,” Stallings said Monday.
That groundwork is, specifically, every seeded player from last season, when both the boys and girls finished in the middle of the IMAC pack.
Ty Wallen returns as the top seed in front of Alexis Pierce, Savannah Gooden, Lauren Troutman, Riley McClurg, Savannah Summers and Brianna Green.
On the boys’ side, two sophomores — Dylan Cox and Jonthan Fintak — lead a very young Eagles squad rounded out by teammates Mark Danby, Corey Combs, Aaron Fain, Bryce Lipsey and Bryce Pierce.
“We’re really young, and I think both teams have a lot of potential,” Stallings said.
“Especially the boys, because they’re so young.”
Seymour opens their season next Thursday against The King’s Academy.