With the loss of several talented players from last season due to graduation, the Powell High School tennis teams will look to begin rebuilding, opening their 2018 campaign on the road at Green River and Rock Springs Monday and Tuesday (today).
PHS head coach Joe Asay said the first week of practice went well, and the opening matches will serve as a barometer for the rest of the season.
“These kids have been getting after it. They’ve been playing matches and figuring out where their pecking order is,” Asay said. “On the boys’ side, we lost our No. 2 singles kid, our No. 1 doubles team and the No. 3 doubles team — five seniors who have moved on. It’s certainly opened up some opportunities for some kids who have been playing in the JV and junior ranks.”
The Lady Panthers will be looking to replace its top two singles players with the graduation of Hattie Pimental and Lauren Asher; the remaining six varsity players are all returning, though there will be some movement within their ranks.
“It’s a short season, and my biggest push will be to get the girls into the right spots,” Asay said.
The biggest recurring issue working against the team, according to Asay, is the early start to the season: With two-and-a-half weeks until the start of school, families are still trying to squeeze in vacations, making it difficult for a coach to know what the team will look like by the opening match.
“We try to get the word out, let the kids and parents know when things are gearing up, but it’s difficult in the summer,” he explained. “... We have a few kids that will probably wander in here in the next week or so.”
For the Panthers, Asay said he’ll have between 20 and 22 boys competing for the eight varsity spots this season.
“We have a good number of kids, and it gives them some opportunities to fill those varsity positions,” Asay said. “The kids that don’t make it out of the first week of challenge matches will have the chance to keep challenging.”
Coming off a fifth-place finish at state last season, the Panthers will be without the services of No. 2 singles player Rhett Pimental, the No. 2 doubles team of James Sheets and Aaron Jacobsen and the No. 3 doubles team of Wade Musso and Nathaniel Witham, all lost to graduation.
Jesse Brown will compete again in the No. 1 singles spot for the Panthers, as the junior will look to replicate the success he had as a freshman, when he won the No. 2 state singles title.
“Jesse [Brown] is a great kid and a phenomenal athlete,” Asay said. “There were a lot of expectations on him last year after winning state as a freshman, and he had a solid year at the No. 1 spot. He has another year of experience under his belt, and we’re excited to see what he’ll bring to the team this season. He’s got some challenges to work through, so we’ll see how it goes.”
As sophomores last season, the No. 2 doubles team of Dylan Preator and Aiden Jacobsen finished runners-up at state, earning All-State honors. Their success presents an interesting conundrum for the team this season, as coaches look to fill open varsity positions.
“It was a tremendous run for them [Preator and Jacobsen],” Asay said. “Certainly with the amount of talent and athleticism that they bring, they’ll have some opportunities this year to advance. The challenge for us as coaches will be to figure out the best place to put these guys. Either one could compete for the No. 2 singles spot; that being said, keeping them as a doubles team would be great for us at the No. 1 doubles spot.”
Asay said there are also a handful of returning juniors and seniors ready to compete for open spots, always a good problem to have as a coach.
“The opportunities are definitely there to get some varsity experience,” he said.
With only two seniors gone from last year’s team, Asay said the Lady Panthers will face the same challenges as the boys, with established doubles teams possibly breaking up to fill the No. 1 and No. 2 singles positions.
The No. 1 doubles team of Sierra Sanders and Shayla Shoopman, the No. 2 doubles team of Sloane Asay and Heidi Barrus and the No. 3 doubles team of Hailee Paul and Ashley Dunkerley are all returning this season. Asay said the girls played over the summer, and are coming into this season ready to play. The competition for the top two singles spots, as well as the top doubles teams, will be strong.
“It’s definitely going to be interesting,” Asay said of the competition for the varsity spots. “That said, I wish I had more girls coming out; we’ll probably end up with about 15 for the season. But these numbers give us some options.”
The tennis teams hit the road Monday morning for afternoon non-conference matches against Green River. Powell will then head to Rock Springs for matches on Tuesday. The Panthers and Lady Panthers will open their home schedules Friday against Thunder Basin in the morning and Campbell County in the afternoon.
“Playing these non-conference opponents does give us a measure of how these kids play against the rest of the state,” Asay said. “It gives us a little bit of an idea of what to expect, and it gets the kids out and playing matches, fine-tuning their games.”