OTHS tennis coach Erin Thoman greeted 20 players for the start of preseason practices. Without the services of three graduated state qualifiers, the Panthers will rely on a revamped starting line-up when they begin Southwestern Conference play.
Led by junior Quincy Dollison and sophomore Niko Papachrisanthou, both of whom also qualified for the state tourney field in 2016, this year’s squad will attempt to duplicate the success of last spring when the Panthers finished with a 16-4 overall record and a 5-1 league mark.
“This season, our team will face some big challenges in attempting to replicate our results from last year,” Thoman said. “We won the IHSA sectional tournament and advanced all six of our players to state, finishing 41st. Our boys have put in a lot of time during the off-season and have really been pushing each other in practice, preparing for what we think will be a very interesting spring.”
Senior team captains Adam Spihlman, Blake Heimann, Chase Holland and Matt Spradling will give the Panthers some stability in their line-up, although Thoman has yet to finalize her varsity starters.
“Papachrisanthou, Dollison and sophomore Drake Schreiber will fill our top three spots, but we haven’t settled on the playing order or completed the line-up card,” Thoman said. “Our senior players will definitely see action at the varsity level, and we also expect contributions from juniors Eric Upson and Zane Toner.”
“Our goals are the same as every other season,” Thomann added. “We want to finish the conference race in the top three and advance as many players as we can to the state tournament.”
Reaching the promised land of state tourney competition was made a bit more problematic by the Illinois High School Association’s reconfiguration of the tennis playoffs. The state organization decided to reduce the number of school classifications from three to two, creating a sectional tournament in this area that will, in reality, make the tourney a replay of the Southwestern Conference tournament.
“The re-alignment certainly makes the road to Chicago an even more difficult task,” said Thoman. “Edwardsville and Belleville East will once again present major obstacles, but I’m confident that our boys will prepare through the course of the season to give us a legitimate shot at competing on even terms.”
On Saturday, March 18, the Panthers had their first test when they participated in the Triad Tournament. The OTHS netters ended the competition with mixed results, losing narrowly to Dunlap and Belleville East by identical 3-2 scores but bouncing back against Belleville West to secure a team victory.
“Overall, the effort was there, but we made too many tactical errors against Dunlap and East,” Thoman said. “It was a good start, however, in that we were able to evaluate our players in real match situations. Our coaching staff will continue to work with our line-up to maximize our potential.”
The OTHS netters will apply the lessons learned in the Triad tourney as they prepare for their conference opener March 28 against the Alton Redbirds. Tennis action will also be a priority beginning March 23 when Thoman and her staff begins their middle school tennis clinic. The clinic is open to all boys and girls in the sixth through eighth grades. Instruction will be from 6 to 7 p.m. at the OTHS courts. Parents our potential tennis players can sign up or obtain more information by attending Thursday’s first session or contacting Coach Thoman at the high school at 618-632-3507).