BELLEVILLE — After spending the last four seasons learning the ropes as an assistant, Jenny Mennerick takes over as girls tennis coach at Belleville West in 2013.
But is the former O'Fallon High and McKendree University tennis standout ready to take over one of the top programs in the state?
"Absolutely I feel like I'm ready. I've learned from the best in coach (Bob) Keefe the past few years,'' Mennerick said. "I've been looking forward to this season and seeing how the girls can do. I feel like we'll have a strong team.''
Keefe, who retired from coaching for a third time after the 2012 season, has left the Maroons program in good shape and Mennerick with what should be three of the top players in southern Illinois.
Back to help make Mennerick's first year a smooth one are 2012 Belleville News-Democrat Player of the Year, junior Kayleigh Thurwalker and seniors Blair Hollenbeck and Gabi Papachrisanthou.
"The transition has been very good. Having been an assistant here for the last three years, I know the girls and they know what I expect. This is a good group and they are working very hard,'' Mennerick said. "About the only real change has been working with the junior varsity last year to the varsity this year.
"And its not really much of a change because we do a lot of the same drills. Like, I said, I'm looking forward to working with the girls and having a good season.''
Thurwalker will once again be the premier player in southern Illinois after a summer of top-flight tournament action throughout the Midwest.
"Kayleigh had a good summer and her game has improved in every way. She was very consistent last year and is even moreso this season,'' Mennerick said. "But she's moving better, her volleys at the net are stronger and both her first and second serves are better.
Hollenbeck should be one of the best No. 2 players in the area as she returns for her fourth year in he varsity starting lineup, while Papachrisanthou is also improved after a breakthrough junior season in '12.
"Blair is our senior captain and so she's going to be one of our leaders this season. She's worked hard on her game as has Gabi (Papachrisanthou),'' Mennerick said. "They are both better players then they were last season.
While the Maroons top three players will be tough to beat each night, the rest of the lineup will feature a lot of young, talented players who have very little varsity experience.
Among the players vying for starting spots are Kaylie Comley, Madeline Woodrome, Keely Lougeay, Allyson Veile and Danielle Hawthorne.
Contact reporter Dean Criddle at 239-2661 or firstname.lastname@example.org