(Photo by Brent Shipman, Staff)
SIKESTON -- After losing six seniors and four varsity players from last year's team, the Sikeston boys tennis team will have plenty of new faces this spring.
"We have a number of young men who are newcomers to our program that haven't had any experience playing organized tennis," said Sikeston coach Russ Dial. "Our primary concern is to allow them to get an understanding of the fundamental skills, techniques, strategies and rules/regulations of the game."
Gone from last year's squad is Stuart Strom, who finished third districts, just missing a chance of going to the state tournament. Also gone are several other seniors who played key roles on a team that finished in the middle of the pack at districts.
With many new players this season, Dial said the team will look to a senior duo and a handful of underclassmen for leadership.
"With the loss of the majority of our team's seniors and with only two seniors on the team this year we'll be asking one of them with three years experience to take over the leadership roles, and this is Jacob Alsup," Dial said. "The other senior, Ben Priday, hasn't played organized tennis before, however, his potential for being a team leader has been seen in practices.
"Josh Bill, Jimmy Hines, Will Hamlin and other underclassmen have displayed positive attitudes in their individual roles on our team."
Dial said this year's team is comparable to last year's in their work ethic.
"Once on the court at practices it's hard to get them off," Dial said. "Naturally, we have high expectations and we will strive to reach them but the dynamics of this year's team and individual players are different due to less experience."
Even though the team is young and lacking experience, their goals are focused on the end of the season and the district tournament and beyond.
"We have expectations for those new to the game to become competitive and mentally strong players, and continued tactical growth for our returners," Dial said. "Goals we will strive to achieve include advancement as a team to the sectional tournament, sending individuals to sectionals, and state."
One change this spring will be that Sikeston will not host the district tournament for the first time in recent memory due to a change in format. The tournament will be held at Potosi this year.
Sikeston will open the season today at 4 p.m. when they host Marion, Ill. While Dial hopes to get the season off to a good start, he said that process has actually already began.
"I think that has been partially accomplished by the positive attitudes, work ethic, willingness to learn, and enthusiasm displayed by all thus far in practice," Dial said. "Continued characteristics such as these will make us winners no matter how the wins/loses turn out in the beginning."