The 2014 tennis season proved to be a stellar one for the Althoff Crusaders, who won two tournament titles and re-established themselves as a contender in the South Seven Conference.
Duplicating that success after graduating 10 of 19 players means Althoff returns to the rebuilding mode this spring.
Or does it?
Returning starters Jeff Murphy and Donovan McKnight headline a somewhat sparse Althoff roster which features only 11 players.
And while veteran coach Rusty Parker isn’t expecting any miracles, he does think his team could be one of the sleepers in metro-east boys tennis circles this season.
“I know the natural thing to do once coaches see our roster is to see who we graduated and think we’re going to be back to where we’ve been in the past and in some cases we’ve really struggled. But I think we might turn that around,’’ Althoff coach Rusty Parker said. “We have a few players back from last season and from what I see these kids aren’t afraid to work hard and have really improved.
“This is an upbeat group of kids and I’ve really enjoyed being around them. I think we’ll have a good year.’’
Althoff opens its season March 28 with a four-team meet at Alton. The Crusaders also are scheduled to compete in the Edwardsville Tournament on April 3-4.
Murphy and McKnight move up to the top two singles positions after playing at the Nos. 4 and 5 spots a year ago. Both are good athletes as well as tennis players according to Parker.
“It’s a big jump, but both Jeff (Murphy) and Donovan (McKnight) have worked very hard in the offseason and their games have been elevated as well,’’ Parker said. “I have no doubt they will be able to compete and compete well at the top of our lineup.’’
Devin Piper, who was among the Crusaders’ top junior-varsity players last season, also faces a major jump in skill level as he has earned the No. 3 singles position. Austin Crook and Clayton Crook are penciled in at the Nos. 4 and 5 spots.
“Devin had a real good year on junior-varsity last season and we’re hoping he can come in and help lead us in the middle of our lineup,” Parker said. “I feel we’re strong at the one through three spots and the players at four through six just need to play, win some matches early and gain a little confidence.’’
“We had a real battle for the No. 6 spot, but we’re going to go with Daniel Hummel. He’s a freshman, but he’s the kind of player you want playing No. 6 because he just gets everything back. He’s a backboard.’’
Rouding out the Althoff lineup will be Seth Bertelsman, Neven Babic, Kai Reichert, Harrison Maine and Nic Land.