SIKESTON -- The Sikeston Bulldogs seek their fifth straight district tennis championship when they host the Class 1, District 1 Tournament on Thursday.
The Bulldogs will not enter as a team favorite. That distinction belongs to undefeated Dexter and 13-1 St. Pius of Festus.
"I'd like to think that we can contend if we have a good day," said Sikeston's sixth-year coach Brian James, the mentor of four straight district titles.
"This team is probably not as strong as we've had in the past," added James. "We're quite young this year. We had to replace four or five varsity players so I consider it a rebuilding year. We've had our ups and downs."
Other participants in the 12-team district are Charleston, Kennett, Arcadia Valley, Crystal City, De Soto, Festus, North County, Potosi and Windsor of Imperial.
Each team sends two singles and two doubles competitors. The top two individual performers in each category advance to state.
The 77th MSHSAA Boys Tennis Championships will be conducted at the Cooper Tennis Complex in Springfield on May 26-28.
The top two team point producers move on to a sectional round, hosted by the District 1 champion, next week.
A rigorous late-season schedule may benefit the contingent from Sikeston, which finished the season with an 8-8 dual record.
"We had our toughest stretch of opponents late in the year," said James, "so, hopefully, that has gotten us ready for district play."
Sikeston will be represented in singles by senior Marc Leible, the No.-1 seed, and unseeded junior Chris Matthews.
In doubles competition, the Bulldogs have the fifth-seeded team in the freshmen duo of Clayton Matthews and Charley Jones. The second doubles team is comprised of junior Andrew Powell and sophomore Logan Hampton. They are unseeded.
Said James, of his primary hopeful, "Leible has gone to state the last two years and has quite a bit of experience. He's seen state play and is not fazed by much at this point. He certainly ranks among some of the best individual players I've had."
Leible, who finished second in district to Charleston's Alec Peterson in '03 and '04, exited in the first round in his previous state appearances.
The Charleston doubles team of Derek Hoppe and Blake Branam have been tabbed No. 1 and Kyle Mooney of St. Pius is the second-seeded singles player.
James prefers Sikeston's role as host, with matches contested at Sikeston High School and the Sikeston Country Club.
"Just the aspect of not having to travel is important," he said. "A lot of these teams are coming from an hour and a half to two hours away. They come the night before or early the day of district play and I think that's a disadvantage. "I'd much rather host the district than go somewhere for it."
Early-round matches will be held at both venues in the morning, then the championships will conclude at the high school in the afternoon.