Belleville East tennis coach Dan Skaer has the luxury of starting a lineup featuring two of the top players in the Southwestern Conference in sophomore Max Skaer and junior Christian Cowulich each time the Lancers take the court during the 2017 season.
But in order for the Lancers to contend for a top three finish in a league that features Edwardsville and strong programs such as Belleville West, O’Fallon and Alton, they will need their supporting cast to produce.
“There is a drop off in talent level after Max and Christian,” Skaer said. “We have players who have played at the varsity level and other who have played at the top of the junior-varsity lineup who are all battling to see who fits in where.
“Some of them played in the off-season. Maybe not as much as I would have liked, but they played at least some and we’re going to need them to step up and be successful for us this season.”
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IHSA sectional runner-up to Belleville West a year ago, the Lancers opened their season last weekend at the Triad High School Invitational. East went 1-1-1 in three matches, but raised their level of play in a 3-2 loss to Chicago’s Lincoln-Way East and a 5-5 tie against Chatham-Glenwood.
“I thought we probably played our best of the day against Chatham (Glenwood) and Lincoln Way. It was good to see the kids on the court and see how they competed,” Skaer said. “We just have to keep working. But so far I like what I see. They’re good kids both on and off the court.”
One player who has improved is Max Skaer, the head coach’s son. Skaer spent a full off-season of playing tournament tennis and working on his game to be a more complete tennis player.
“Max has gotten bigger, he’s hitting the ball with more pace and he’s quicker then he was a year ago. He’s not a little kid anymore,” Dan Skaer said. “Max is also one of these players who if you tell him he needs to work on a certain aspect of his game, he will do it.”
Perhaps more of a free spirit, Cowulich is also an impressive player in all areas of the game according to Skaer.
“Christian is a very good player who has also worked hard on his game,” Skaer said. “Both he and Max are going to have to be two of our leaders in bothy singles and doubles.”
Battling for playing time in the No. 3-8 positions in singles and in doubles are seniors Zack Buescher, Dylan Friedman, Jacob McQueen and Ethan Pickard along with juniors Carter Baldus and Cameron Cagas.