At long last, the year Althoff girls tennis coach Rusty Parker has been waiting for has arrived.
Taking a back seat to strong teams at Belleville East and Belleville West in the past couple of seasons, the Crusaders head into the 2015 season deeper than they’ve been and perhaps more talented than they’ve been in a long time.
“We’ve got a few freshmen in this year and the good thing about it is that they’ve all played,’’ Parker said. “In the past we’ve maybe gotten a few players who were basically beginners. But these girls can play. It’s obvious that some of them have played tournaments and taken lessons. If they keep improving and working on their games, the future looks really bright.’’
And, led by two of the top players in the metro-east in juniors Madelyn Skinner and Emma Melichar, the Crusaders present looks pretty good too. The Crusaders standouts qualified for the state finals in doubles two years ago as freshmen, while Melichar advanced in singles a year ago.
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Daughter of former Althoff star Jennifer Himstedt, Melichar is clearly the Crusaders top singles player again this season and could be one of the top players in Southern Illinois. Skinner isn’t far behind.
“They are both very good singles players with Emma qualifying for state and Madelyn just missing out last year,” Parker said. “We’re not sure what we’re going to do for state. I know that they have the potential to be a very good doubles team who could do well at the state tournament.
“Both Madelyn and Emma have improved their games. They can both serve and volley well and they have very solid ground strokes from both sides. They will be two of our leaders.’’
Two players with bright futures are freshman Olivia Melichar and Mary Nester. Younger sister of Emma Melichar, Olivia Melichar is a very good all around player with a lot of tennis experience. Nester is the daughter of local tennis teaching professional Greg Nester and as expected, is fundamentally sound with a solid all-around game.
Rounding out Althoff’s top six players are Maria Davinroy and Lauren Borik. Others battling for a top eight spot are Lydia Gehrs, Jordan Roeper, Kaitlynn Borik and Libby Fries.
“I expect all of them to be battling to play in our top eight players,’’ Parker said. “This is a good group of girls. The chemistry is great and they are out here every day, pushing each other, making each other better players. They are having fun. That’s the important thing.
“I like this team and I think we’ll have a successful season. I know Belleville East has almost everybody back and so they’re going to be very good. Belleville West graduated their best player and I’m not sure exactly what they have coming back. They’re always pretty good. I think we’ll be good too.’’
Contact reporter Dean Criddle at firstname.lastname@example.org or 618-239-2661.