Highland boys tennis coach Matt Pellock believes his team has a good combination of experience and youth that should lead to success in the present while also bolstering the program for the future.
"I think we have a really good group of new guys that have shown focus and an eagerness to learn the sport," Pellock said. "We have a big mix from freshmen to senior, and the team really needed this size of group to come in and become the present and future of this program. I'm excited to coach and guide them through our season, and hope they enjoy it as much as I know our other guys do."
The key to the success of this year's team will be the upperclassmen who have multiple years of experience. Pellock said this year's team has the strongest senior presence the program has featured since the four current seniors entered the program as freshmen.
The four fourth-year team members are Nathaniel English, Andrew Roach, Tyler Baublitz and Dacoda Riechmann.
"All four guys have played significant roles on the roster during their time here, and Nathaniel and Andrew are now looking to play their fourth year of varsity tennis," Pellock said. "They have always represented the program well in the work they put in on the court, along with their tremendous demeanor and character. All the experience they are bringing in to their final season is what I think will guide them to their most successful season."
In addition, junior Dylan Bargetzi will also be a key to the Bulldogs' success after serving as the No. 1 player last year as a sophomore.
"Dylan has all-around game and lots of racket talent. (He's) able to generate lots of spin and has worked on developing his slice shot that is going to really help him stay in points against strong players," Pellock said of Bargetzi. "Dylan had some great singles wins last season, and (I) expect him to be a strong singles player this year. Some of his biggest work since last season has been on his volleys, and we want to see that work show off in big doubles matches this spring."
Pellock said English is very attack-driven in his tennis, and will pursue the net often.
"A big strength for him is how well he handles his volleys and sense of space at the net, and that forces the players he faces to make quality shots to beat him," Pellock said of English. "His movement continues to improve and should help his singles game the most. Because of his strong presence at the net and consistent serve, he has been an effective doubles player for us."
Pellock said Roach has also proven to be a very good all-around player.
"His racket speed is very quick and that allows him to make tough shots and hit with heavy, consistent pace. His best and most captivating tennis has come at the end of his seasons," Pellock said. "We really want to see that kind of tennis early on in the season to spark his play and translate that into some early winning tennis for him."
Pellock said Baublitz has developed his serve into a big strength, and he has an ability to stay in points very well.
"Tyler will be looking to play higher up in the lineup, and we will need him to produce some key wins in order for us to win matches," Pellock said of Baublitz.
Triad and Mascoutah will have strong players again and will be expected to be the conference leaders.
"Our top guys have developed their tennis game enough up to this point that, if they play with some grit and intelligence, they are capable of getting wins against those teams," Pellock said.
Pellock said that, last season, there was a lot of movement in the team's lineup in a search for a bit more success in the doubles pairings as well as the top of the singles lineup. The season finished up with some very good doubles in the sectional from Bargetzi and Roach as the team's top doubles team, and English and Baublitz as the second team.
"I can see this being what we focus on to start with and hope we see that tennis improve with those pairs," Pellock said. "Both teams can be very solid teams. We will look for more balance in our singles lineup, and will let these guys play as much against each other as possible before we enter the regular season with an exact lineup."
Highland was close in getting a doubles team through to state last season and that definitely is one of the big goals this year.
"We want to put good seasons together from many of these guys so that we have good avenues to get through our sectional," Pellock said. "This group has played a lot of tennis and worked hard. I want to see them end on that high note, because they deserve it."
Half of the Bulldogs' lineup will be new players. Because Highland has a strong foundation with its returning upperclassman, that will allow the squad's new players to focus on learning the sport and developing their skill without the added pressures of filling in missing pieces before really being comfortable in the sport.
"There is potential, I believe, to see some of them compete with our returning group in the upcoming weeks for chances to play in our tournaments where we will field more than a six player lineup," Pellock said.
Pellock said Mason Clarke, Connor Barton, Dacoda Riechmann and Zane Robertson will be eyeing a chance to compete for a starting spot after taking advantage of the summer hitting opportunities along with a lot of individual practice time.
Pellock said Clarke led the group last season, so he begins as the player to beat in this group.
"Mason is a good mover on the court and has very nice ball control," Pellock said. "Being a steady hitter is what could put him in our starting six, if he continues to keep that approach."
Pellock said Barton has played a ton since last season, and it's easy to notice watching the way he is hitting.
"He has developed nice form, and the more he hits, the more he will continue to grow in his shot control and confidence," Pellock said of Barton.
Pellock said Riechmann has always been a smooth hitter, and it would be great to see him battle into a spot this year and really make it a great competition for a spot in the starting lineup.
Robertson has played a lot as well this offseason and has an opportunity like the others to be a main part of this roster and to be counted on.