By KENNY HETZLER Kokomo Tribune
---- — A year ago, Kokomo’s boys tennis team won its second straight sectional title, solidifying its Howard County bragging rights after Western had won the 2009 and ‘10 sectional titles.
Going into the 2013 season, Kokomo and Western are in similar positions — they return their No. 1 singles players but little else. Defending Mid-Indiana Conference champion Taylor will have a veteran player at the top of its lineup and mostly newcomers in its other spots. Eastern has the most experience of any Howard County team with four seniors and Northwestern has a blend of veterans and newcomers.
The following are capsules of all five Howard County teams.
Kokomo finished 2012 with a 15-7 record, falling to state champion Carmel in the regional.
Senior Craig Simon is back at No. 1 singles. As for the Nos. 2 and 3 singles, coach Shawn Flanary is considering senior Bryce York, junior Blake Brookshire, sophomore Jake Farkas and freshmen Grant Patterson and Conner Sanburn.
The Kats’ doubles candidates are York, Brookshire, Farkas along with seniors Erik Bowen and Brad Dockemeyer, junior Joey Hurlocker and sophomores Ben Tracy and Chris Chisser.
“We graduated so much experience,” Flanary said. “It will take time to fill into those four positions.”
Even though Flanary wants to three-peat as sectional champions, he also knows that the other county teams will be gunning for Kokomo.
“[In the sectional], Taylor returns one of the best players in the Howard County in Jack Lipchik. They will also have strength in the top of their order,” he said. “Western will also be strong. They have Judson Quinn, who won the 18-year-old [division of the] Howard County Tournament, and their other kids will be very athletic. It’s a wide-open sectional.”
Simon and Quinn had a back-and-forth match when Kokomo and Western met in a sectional semifinal last year. Simon took a 4-6, 6-1, 6-2 win, giving the Kats a 3-2 win.
Kokomo has finished second in the North Central Conference for two straight years. Last year, the Kats went 6-1, falling only to Marion, which won the championship.
“I think Marion will be head and shoulders above anyone else,” Flanary said. “Logansport will look strong. Muncie Central will also be strong, but I think it’s Marion’s conference to lose.”
The Kats open Monday at Plymouth.
Western (12-3 overall, 6-1 MIC in 2012) is the only Howard County team that had a coaching change. Co-coaches Andrew Miller and Kristine Miller will lead the squad this year. Andrew coached Eastern boys team two years ago and Kristine is the girls tennis coach at Northwestern.
Senior Judson Quinn is back at No. 1 singles for the Panthers.
“Quinn has had an outstanding week of practice,” Andrew Miller said. “He will have a great year. Quinn also won the 18-year-old singles and was part of the championship doubles team at the Howard County Tennis Tournament.”
The rest of Western’s 2012 team consisted of seniors. Sophomores Brody Worl and Justin Groothuis and junior Vito Pulverenti lead the group of varsity newcomers.
“They will be varsity players for sure,” Andrew Miller said. “We also have eight freshmen and all of them will be in the mix, but we are wide open at this point.
“We don’t have any goals in terms of wins and losses,” he added. “We want to improve as a young team. This is a team that can do very good down the road by getting solid in fundamentals. We are young, and every team will be more experienced.”
Eight of the 13 players on Western’s roster are freshmen.
“It should be fun and competitive in the conference. Everyone has a chance to be successful,” Andrew Miller said . “Kokomo is always the [sectional] favorite because of the size of the school and the strength of the coach. All five other schools will be competing with them.”
The Panthers open Wednesday at Westfield.
The Titans enjoyed a big 2012 season, going 15-4 overall and 7-0 in the Mid-Indiana Conference for its first league title since 1994.
But the success came with a senior-heavy lineup. The Titans return one singles player and one doubles team.
Senior Jack Lipchik will man the No. 1 singles spot. He was No. 2 last year, earning first team all-MIC honors.
Seniors Austin Douglas and Casey Glick and sophomores Camden Kimbler and Cole Schroeder are possibilities for the other singles positions.
“Those four guys were doubles players [in 2012] and they are close together,” Taylor coach Dave Wise said. “They all lack singles experience, but they are all returning players.”
The two who don’t play singles will team up to play No. 1 doubles.
Taylor also has senior Kaleb Copp and sophomores Clay Dishon and Connor Leicht. Two of the three will play at No. 2 doubles.
“They are all new, but they are picking up real quick,” Wise said. “I am real happy with what we have done so far. We don’t play our first match until Aug. 28 [at Tipton], so we have three-and-half weeks before our first match. Then we play a lot of matches in a short period of time.”
Wise expects competitive battles for the MIC and Kokomo Sectional titles.
“It’s going to be wide open,” Wise said. “There will be several teams that will challenge for both the conference and sectional. I think there will be a lot of teams that will have the same problem that we do. We played Kokomo close last year, and they had more seniors then we did. The sectional also evolves around Kokomo. The schedule that they play is an advantage to them. One of us will come out and challenge them.
“As for the conference, Peru is usually solid, and Western lost a bunch. Northwestern and Eastern could be decent. I don’t know who will be the best team.”
Eastern coach Nick Sale is entering his second season. In his first year, Sale led the Comets to a 9-8 overall record and a 3-4 MIC record — improvements from 2011 records of 6-10 and 1-6.
Sale and the Comets will look to build on the 2012 improvement. Eastern has three of its top five spots returning — Logan Colwell (No. 1 singles), Austin Chase (No. 2 singles) and the No. 1 doubles team of Robbie Walling and Zach Walker. All four players are seniors.
“With a pretty senior-laden group, we should be in the upper half of the conference, and compete for the sectional,” Sale said. “We are a competitive group with our experience. Our conference will be deep with Western and Hamilton Heights towards the top.”
Freshman Ryan Manfred will be at the No. 2 singles spot, and the No. 2 doubles will have a combination of junior Daniel Pugh and seniors Riley Haupert, Caleb Wisher and Matt Wylie.
“Manfred has played a lot of matches over the summer,” Sale said. “But, our No. 2 doubles team has inexperience. They haven’t played very much together.”
Sale is hoping the Comets can make some noise in the sectional.
“Every year, you see Kokomo, Western and Taylor,” he said. “We have to play well to beat those teams, but it’s a possibility.”
The Comets open Aug. 24 at Cass’ tourney.
Northwestern (3-14, 1-6 MIC) will look at several different combinations for its lineup.
The Tigers return seniors Will Devaul and Kyle Miller, juniors Joel Austin and Nathan Chou and sophomore Kohl McCully. According to coach Matt Woods, all five could play singles or doubles.
Woods will look at five freshmen to battle it out for the other two spots. Those players are Clayton Douglass (singles), Kyle Douglass (singles, doubles), Michael Harshman (singles, doubles), Brayden Chou (singles, doubles) and Noah Cardwell (singles, doubles).
“This is my fourth year as head coach, so my seniors I’ve had all four years,” Woods said. “My freshmen are new, but I have gotten to know them well, and I am very impressed.”
Woods likes the depth of his team.
“This is the deepest team since I have been at Northwestern,” he said. “I can say that most likely my first match lineup will probably look nothing like it does come sectional time. We have a nice balance of returning leaders and newcomers that I feel give us a good team atmosphere. We have good character guys and that can potentially take us a long way.”
Northwestern has a total of nine freshmen in camp, “which will hopefully bode well for the future of the program,” Woods said.
Woods would like to see Northwestern battle for MIC and sectional crowns.
“Our team [needs] to take advantage of every opportunity they play, whether it be in practice or a regular-season match, so we need to learn from and overcome adversity to better ourselves come tournament time,” he said.
“I feel the MIC is going to be pretty solid from top to bottom again,” he added. “It is a very good conference, but I feel we can definitely be a contender this year. Western, Peru, Hamilton Heights and Cass [will also be contenders]. Our conference has quality coaches and quality players so it really is up in the air.”
Like the other Howard County coaches, Woods sees Kokomo as the favorite in the sectional.
“I am sure Kokomo is heavily favored this year, but I would hope by the end of the year we could possibly give Kokomo a run for their money,” he said. “We play them early in the year so I will have a better idea at that time. Western will be there, I am sure of that, but they are going to be fairly young too, I believe. I think the story will be if the youth can rise up to the challenge.”
The Tigers’ season begins Tuesday against Carroll.