After some rough sledding two years ago, the Belleville West Maroons re-established themselves as one of the top tennis programs in Southern Illinois last season.
The goal in 2014?
"We have players who have been around the game for a while. Not just this past summer," Maroons coach Andy Brunner said. "We still have to see how they stack up against the area's competition, but so far they're looking good and working hard every day."
In seniors Cole Henke and Cole Lewis, the Maroons have two of the top players in the Southwestern Conference.
Lewis and Henke split time at the No. 1 singles last season and while Henke will begin the season as the Maroons' top player, Brunner said both have improved in most areas.
Henke and Lewis also will be the top doubles tandem for West.
"Their strokes are solid and I look for both of them to have good seasons for us,'' Brunner said. "I see improvement on both of their games, but probably even more in their decision making.
"Before there were times when their shot selection was a little questionable at times. This year they are thinking a little better.''
Freshman Drew Boyles and junior Jeff Kleinaitis are playing the Nos. 3-4 singles spots.
"I really like Drew Boyles and the way he practices and approaches the game. He has earned that No. 3 spot and I think he'll do a good job there,'' Brunner said. "Jeff (Kleinaitis) played a little bit for us last year and his game has also improved.''
Brunner said that several players, freshman Derek Henke, sophomore Nicholas Harry and juniors Joe Early and Sam Kaeser are battling for the final two singles starting spots, while freshman Austin Quandt and sophomore Ian Burger are possible starters in doubles.
As for the Southwestern Conference, Brunner expects Edwardsville and Belleville East to be the teams to beat.
"They were two of the top 10 teams in the state a year ago and I know both teams return a lot of players,'' Brunner said. "But every year, our conference is one of the best around. Every team has good players.
"As for us, I think we'll have a good year. The guys have a good mental approach and as long as they keep that approach, I think the wins will follow."