BELLEVILLE — Known in the past for producing solid individual players and skilled doubles combinations, the Althoff Crusaders will have a different look on the tennis court this season.
For the first time in the coaching tenure of Rusty Parker, the Crusaders will have depth. So much in fact that Althoff has enough players for two teams.
"It's really exciting," Parker said. "We've got 17 players in the program right now, which means that we'll have a full junior-varsity team for the first time in the Edwardsville Tournament (April 4-5). I'm anxious to see how those kids do next week.
"We've got some kids who haven't played a lot, but the majority of our varsity top 10 players have really put the time in on their games. This is the most depth we've had since I've been here and probably for a long time.''
That depth will be on display for the first time Saturday, when the Crusaders compete in the Marquette Duals in Alton. It will also mark the debut of senior Austin Mueller as Althoff's top singles player.
Playing behind Joey Bartholomew at the No. 2 spot a year ago, Mueller put in a full offseason of tournament play and lessons to claim the the top position.
"They have had several close-challenge matches. I'm confident that either Joey or Austin would be very good at either spot since they were at the top of the lineup last year,'' Parker said. "But Joey had already decided that he wanted to concentrate more on playing doubles with Brendan (Skinner) for the sectional.
"And so we're going to give them a chance to work on that and give Austin a chance to see what he can do in singles.''
A senior, Skinner will be the Crusaders' No. 3 player for a second straight year, while junior Jeff Murphy, freshman Donovan McKnight and senior Michael Barnes round out the Crusaders' Nos. 4 through 6 players.
Barnes and Murphy will be the Crusaders' No. 2 doubles team to start the year.
"This is as a good a team as we've had in a long time. I hesitate to be too overconfident because on any given day, you know how kids are,'' Parker said. "But as far as their overall improvement and their level of play, I think we're deeper than we've been in the past as well.
"I feel I can go 10 deep and feel pretty good about anybody we have playing.''
Rounding Althoff's top 10 are seniors Peyton See, Brendan Reeb and Bryce Tyler along with junior Austin Crook.