The Highland High School boys tennis team has a riches of experience as the Bulldogs bring back six of their top-seven players to the fold this spring.
“The group we have back has multiple years of experience, including four seniors looking to make up the core of our varsity squad, all who have played together their whole career,” said Highland coach Matt Pellock.
Pellock said the team is fortunate to have Zach Plocher, the No. 1 player last year, back for his senior season.
“He has once again played a full slate of tennis since last season and looks to be in great form to start the year,” Pellock said. “Last season, Zach had some of the best individual performances our program has seen in a long time, and that was with some early injuries that delayed his start. With his continued improvement, he will have some good goals this year, and a chance to extend his season farther than previous years.”
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Following Plocher as key returning seniors are Ryan Long, Tristin Welch and Jared Bargetzi..
“These three have played a lot of matches in the last three years and that has given them great experience for this upcoming season,” Pellock said. “They all carry unique strengths and will use their experience and abilities to transfer to some winning tennis. Ryan has developed a big serve and heavy ground strokes. Tristin uses good speed and powerful hitting to control points, and Jared has been one of our better net players and has good sense of where to place shots.”
Brett Barker and sophomore Jacob Plocher return and to add tough competition for the seniors and have matured their game as well.
“Brett is one of our more skilled players, and I am definitely looking for him to continue to use that ability combined with playing smart tennis,” Pellock said. “Jacob has a good all-round game and will be a big part of our depth in the varsity lineup.”
New faces will make up over half of the team this season. This new group includes five freshmen, who all have at least a little background in the sport. Nathaniel English, who has been playing for a few years already, Tyler Baublitz, Andrew Roach, Dacoda Reichmann, and Cameron Shively are the freshmen players.
“They all show a good grasp of the game,” Pellock said. “They come in with a familiarity with tennis, and I think they will show big improvements in their first season.”
Other new additions are senior Austin Zurliene, junior Blake McCaslin and sophomore Justin Wagner.
“I’m pleased to see these guys come out and be eager to learn and contribute to the team,” Pellock said. “This group will get a lot of play in this season as we continue to add JV tournaments and play a schedule that includes both dual matches as well as an opportunity for varsity experience in our tournaments.”
Pellock said one of the team’s strengths this season should be the depth in the lineup.
“We should have a starting six of quality players who should be competitive in every match this season,” he said. “This should also translate into good tournament play as our team depth tends to reflect upon how we place. Because of this group’s experience, they know the importance of consistency, and we will place a lot of focus on that throughout our season. From a tennis skill standpoint, we will have an entire varsity of guys who have strong first serves, and will be working to improve the second serving as that was one of our weaker points a season ago.”
The Mississippi Valley Conference is expected to be competitive between several teams, as it tended to be the last season. Triad will have solid players and good depth as always, but Mascoutah may be the favorite to start the season as the Indians are the defending conference champions.
“I expect us to play a role in competing for conference, and I believe this team has the ability and experience to meet that expectation,” Pellock said. “It would be special to see this senior group’s hard work pay off and for them to play to their potential and come away with a great finish to their final season of high school tennis.”