Highland coach Matt Pellock hopes 13 is a lucky number for his boys tennis team this season.
“We have 13 guys on the team, and that is a good number, especially with only returning five from last year’s squad,” he said. “With only the five returners, that means most of our team is first-year players, and we have a mix.”
Pellock said he is really looking forward to what the identity of this team becomes.
“Will the big victories this year come from our third-year players who have stepped up and use their experience to capture the inevitable close matches? Or will it come from new players that jump in to spots, able to win and help out our returning varsity? Obviously if we get both it should be a fun spring,” he said.
The five returners are juniors Andrew Roach, Nathaniel English, Dacoda Riechmann and Tyler Baublitz, and sophomore Dylan Bargetzi.
“The four juniors are our leaders, and they will be the core of our team this season,” Pellock said. “For our returners, I’d like to see Andrew play hard for the No. 1 spot, with Dylan and Nathaniel challenging constantly to take it from him. It is obviously a tough spot to play, but he has played it already and is more than capable in winning at No. 1.”
Last season, Roach played No. 3 singles, as well as some No. 1, including No. 1 in the sectional.
“His play in the sectional last season was some of the best tennis I had seen from him, and would expect him to build on that as he starts his third season,” Pellock said. “His strength is his ability to absorb the pace from his opponent. He is able to use his speed to keep up in rallies and continues to build his groundstroke pace as well. That allows him to compete well against good players.
English comes back after spending last season as the team’s No. 2 singles player. He also played both 1 and 2 doubles.
“His best tennis is when he is at the net,” Pellock said. “He comes forward well and handles volleys very well. He is consistent, and I would really like to see some added power to his game.”
Bargetzi is Highland’s lone sophomore who returns after playing No. 4 singles last spring.
“Dylan looks very comfortable in his game at the start of practices,” Pellock said. “I’ve seen some noticeable improvement in his forehand. He is hitting it with quick racket speed and good topspin. I think that can be a big strength for him if he continues to build confidence in that swing. He has the racket skill, and this will be a big year for him to improve his court know-how to turn that skill into winning tennis.”
Baublitz played some varsity for the Bulldogs last season. He competed very well and earned some big wins for the team.
“He will battle every point, which is what is translating to constant improvement,” Pellock said. “Dacoda will have an opportunity to fill a varsity role, and has experience in those matches from playing many tournaments last season.”
Highland will be relying on some new players to fill varsity spots. Pellock said he expects there to be some challenges with that, since there is a lot to learn just by playing matches, but he has been really pleased with the ability he has seen with the newcomers.
“The new guys are showing they are comfortable hitting with our veteran guys. I think we will have a quality player at every spot when it comes time to start matches,” he said.
The Bulldogs have two freshmen on the team, Andrew Thomae and Connor Barton, who both played throughout the summer. Pellock is glad to have them in their first season.
“They have competed very well so far in practice, and they will get an opportunity to play a ton of tennis this spring,” Pellock said.
Juniors Carter McCall, Mason Clarke and Zane Robertson are also playing in their first season.
“These three all have a great interest in learning the game, and I’m really pleased they have chosen to play for us,” Pellock said.
Highland also has three seniors — Justin Gill, Ben Thomae, and Montana Gilbert — who decided to participate in the sport for the first time this spring.
“So far, I have seen some early signs that they will have an impact on this roster,” Pellock said
Pellock said Gilbert is taking to the game very naturally, and he is excited to see how much he can improve throughout the season.
“(Gilbert) is already showing some great racket skill that usually takes multiple seasons to develop, paired with some great quickness on the court,” Pellock said.
Gill competes well and is also developing control of his shots.
“He is definitely one who could challenge our returning guys,” Pellock said of Gill.
Thomae has been recovering from an injury, but he will be on the court soon, and Pellock looks forward to seeing him compete.
“He, too, has nice athleticism that I think will do him well in picking up the sport,” Pellock said of Thomae.
MVC and postseason shakedown
Pellock said the Mississippi Valley Conference looks strong again, with Mascoutah, Triad and Jerseyville returning experienced teams.
“It is tough to say where we will fit in before we see how our new guys do in match scenarios, but the goal will be to play close matches with each of these teams,” he said.
This will be the first season the sectionals will be split into two classes. Highland will compete in Class 1A, which will most likely include the Bulldogs’ conference rivals as well as some other good local teams.
“I expect it to be just as challenging to qualify as years past, with some good depth in talent throughout the area teams,” Pellock said. “This could be a season where doubles is most of the focus come sectional time, when it seems likely there will be good individual players when our sectional is announced.”
Roach, Bargetzi and English all have experience going up against players area they will likely see later on in the sectional. Pellock said the Highland trio should be working on finding a quality win whenever they can to help their case for sectional seeds — and there will be lots of opportunities with our busy schedule.
“It would be outstanding to see one of our new players challenge these three and possibly make a statement that they deserve an opportunity as well to be a sectional contender,” Pellock said.