Still, they field a team that coach Steve Amaro believes is the deepest he’s seen in his years at Freedom. Returning for the Falcons are singles players Nadean Hurtado, Amy Yonemoto, Jenna Bottorff, plus doubles specialists Sierra Quinley and Randi Strain. Hurtado and Bottorff went undefeated in league play last year.
“After our first day of tryouts, I was very concerned,” Amaro said. “We had trouble running a lap around the track; however, after a good amount of conditioning the past two weeks and our first match against Miramonte, I feel we’ll be ready for season.”
Seniors Mansi Saini, Amanda Weaver and Kristen Quesada also return, bolstering Freedom’s depth. Madison Mills, a junior who qualified for NCS last season in the doubles tournament, also comes back.
For his players to repeat as league champions, Amaro said they’ll need to play well in doubles. They lack experience down the doubles ladder, which he fears can hurt them against top teams.
While the league championship banner from a season ago hangs at Freedom, the Bell Game trophy for tennis takes up residence at Liberty. The Lions also beat Heritage in the second half of last season, giving them a leg up on their rivals.
Sarah Graney and Tanya Schmidt are gone from that team. But senior Janelle Sparks and sophomores Mikayla Kutsuris, Jenne Wristlin, Sabrina Barton and Sierra Wanden comprise five of Liberty’s top six singles players. Also returning are the top two doubles teams of junior Alexis Esquivel and senior Hannah Fugazzi, and seniors Stephanie Drake and Kristina Diaz.
Head coach Priscilla Macksoud believes that heart and determination are her team’s top strengths. “Our girls are tired of being the underdog and are hungry for a BVAL league championship, Macksoud said. “Beating Freedom and Heritage at the second half of last season was just the beginning of good things to come at Liberty High School.”
Her greatest concern is how the singles lineup of predominantly sophomores will handle the butterflies of the BVAL season. Still, she’s confident the girls will be ready to play by the time that the league season begins against Deer Valley.
“We are stronger, we have depth, and our girls have worked hard off-season to dominate the 2011 season,” Macksoud added.
The Patriots face a rebuilding season in 2011 after a strong 2010. Arlesha Samuda won the BVAL title in 2010 as a junior, but head coach Ed Dong said that she wouldn’t return.
As a sophomore in 2010, Megan Celek played mostly singles, but joined Stefanie Johnston to win the BVAL doubles titles. This year, Celek will play in the No. 2 singles slot. Behind her is junior Lauren Ellingson, who moves up from the No. 6 singles spot to the No. 3 position. Both will play behind senior Sarah Stewart, who will take the court in the top position in Samuda’s absence.
“She (Stewart) has been preparing for the past three seasons playing high school and summer league tennis,” Dong said. “Sarah’s looking forward to the challenges, and excels in heat of competition.”
While the Patriots are largely inexperienced, their goal is nothing less than a BVAL championship. The biggest obstacle to achieving that goal, said Dong, is getting his team to believe they can play at a high and intense level.
Heritage is a young team. Its 12-player varsity lineup features eight rookies. What Dong most appreciates about his team is the doubles component, which most of his rival coaches see as a question mark.
“Our three doubles teams should be able to give heartache to their counterparts,” Dong added. “The BVAL league has parity, so anyone can be league champions this season.”
In 2010, the Wolverines managed only a fourth-place finish in league play. This year, led by returning junior Maryn Wunderly, their sights are set high.
Samuda’s absence means the BVAL individual title is wide open. Wunderly gives the Wolverines their best chance to hoist that trophy. She will also lead the attack as Deer Valley tries to climb the ladder and win the team title.
At last year’s BVAL tournament, Wunderly won her first match against Pittsburg’s Kameryn Ray but lost to Antioch’s Laura Cudney.
The Panthers lost their top four singles players – Shannon West, Laura Cudney, Kelly Ferronato and Mada Bonzi – from the 2010 season. Despite the loss, Antioch returns most of a lineup that prosecuted a surprisingly positive 2010 campaign.
Seniors Rachel Harris and Nadia Duenas, who played over the summer and took lessons to improve their games, vie for the top position on the team – Harris enjoying a slight advantage at this point. Senior Ashley Custer and junior Raquel Gragg round out the likely top four. Gragg played predominantly as a doubles player in 2011, but the other top four players return to singles play.
“We have a lot of returning players,” said head coach Larry Johnson. “They (Harris and Duenas) are playing each other pretty equal in challenge matches. They all had respectable records, so we have high hopes.”
As is the case with most of their rivals, Antioch’s doubles situation is not yet known. Junior Katarina Jones is the Panthers’ lone returning doubles player. In order to compete with the BVAL’s top doubles teams, Johnson wants his squad to work on strategy to develop more consistent play.
“We’re hoping to be more competitive than we were last year,” Johnson added. “We’re looking good so far. We beat Clayton Valley 4-3. We have a lot of good, new players. So we’re keeping an eye on the future.”
The Pirates spent 2010 at the bottom of the BVAL standings. No Pirate player or doubles team earned a victory at the league tournament last season, a result they’re looking to change.
Pittsburg will be without its No. 1 singles player from last season, Kameryn Ray, who graduated. Many players on the Pirates’ tennis team last year were seniors. Rachel Parungao, Pittsburg’s No. 4 singles athlete last season, will return.