With the return of five of six starters from last spring’s team, a supporting cast of players with an additional year of experience and a promising newcomer thrown into the mix, the forecast for the OTHS boys tennis team looks brighter than it has been in recent years.
Coach Erin Thoman, starting her third year as boys’ head coach and sixth involved in the program, believes that this year’s squad is capable of big things.
“We have a lot of talent this year combined with experience at the varsity level,” Thoman explained. “Our five top returning players all qualified for state last year. This is the most talented and experienced group that we have had at OTHS in a while. We’re excited to see what they can accomplish this spring.”
Heading the charge for the Panthers will be seniors Neal Shekar, Matt Lloyd and Jon Garry along with juniors Riley Muren and Shree Patel. Of the five returning veterans, Shekar and Muren are currently battling for the #1 spot with newcomer, freshman Dominic Macaluso.
The threesome will give O’Fallon a powerful line-up, no matter where they end up on the depth chart. Once the decision is reached, Shree Patel will step into No. 4 singles.
Others vying for varsity court time include Adam Spihlman, Blake Heimann, Chase Holland, Prem Patel, Quincy Dollison and Austin Farmer.
“Almost everyone on our varsity roster has worked hard in the off-season to improve, which has made our pre-season practices very competitive,” Thoman said. “They are all pushing each other—another positive that should help the team when we begin league play.”
The Panthers who make up the nucleus of the 2015 squad all have proven their mettle on the court. The wild card added to roster, according to Thoman, is freshman Macaluso.
A graduate of St. Clare school, Macaluso has already demonstrated his court acumen as well as athletic talent in limited pre-season action—impressively enough to battle seasoned veterans Shekar and Muren for O’Fallon’s #1 singles position.
“He (Macaluso) gives us another weapon that we didn’t necessarily anticipate,” Thoman said. “Adding his talent to our roster has a domino effect, making every singles and doubles division better.”
The Panthers will have to be solid if they expect to break the stranglehold on conference supremacy perennially held by Edwardsville and challenged by Belleville East. The two schools will again be favorites to capture the league title as the 2015 campaign begins; however, Thoman would not be surprised to see her charges edging closer to the top spot.
“Our goal every year is to finish in the top three in the conference race, win the sectional and advance as many players as possible to the state finals,” Thoman said. “I’m confident that those goals are reachable with this team. How far we can extend our reach past those goals will be played out during the season.”
Thoman still has time to sort out her roster dilemma as the Panthers do not step onto the court for a match until Tuesday, March 31, when they travel to Alton to open the SWC season.