If the Juneau-Douglas tennis team plans on another successful return to the state tournament - and it does - new faces will have to fill the voids left by reigning state champions and contenders.
The two-time state champion mixed doubles tandem of Laurel Messerschmidt and Brian Vandor, along with boys' doubles runners-up Aaron Cohen and Nathan Graves, are gone, and six of the eight 2009 state tournament participants have graduated.
But coach Amy Skilbred and assistant coach Kurt Dzinich both said they are confident this year's group can step up and pick up where the others left off.
"For the last couple of years we've had a mixed doubles team that has won state, and a boys' doubles team that has come in second place, so we lost some pretty good players," she said. "But now we've got a whole group of seniors this year who started playing with the tennis team their freshman year, as opposed to other players that we've had who began with a tennis pro at the Juneau Racquet Club."
Skilbred said the team should be an interesting group to watch this year given the experience gained over the last several seasons. The season begins Friday in Fairbanks.
"We'll see what happens this weekend," she said, "but there should be some pretty good matches."
Both the girls' and boys' teams get four spots in the state tournament, and Skilbred said the competition for those slots will be heavy.
"We've got probably six to eight top boys, all of whom are vying for the positions at state," she said. "We have a good crew that will keep pushing each other's games throughout the season in order to try and make those four spots."
She also said while the boys are deep, there is not a clear-cut favorite for the No. 1 spot. Senior captains Alex Campbell and James Holzenberg are expected to lead the way, but the favorites who fill out the ladder has yet to be determined.
"We lost a lot of people last year, but we have a really close group of guys as far as skill level goes," Campbell said. "We have a bunch of guys all fighting for the No. 1 spot, but the No. 1 spot won't necessarily play singles at state."
Campbell also said it's good for the team to have this kind of competition as it is good preparation for what's to come at the state level.
"I think we have a couple of guys that could compete in doubles and maybe win state," he said. "It definitely pushes you knowing there are eight guys behind you trying to take your spot, so we all feed off of it."
Skilbred said the girls' side expects a couple of seniors, Sammy Alex and Sage Davenport, as well as freshman Emma Good, among others, to perform well over the course of the season. Davenport said there are a lot of girls who not only learned from last year's experience, but they've gotten to be better players over the offseason.
"A lot of people that were just starting last year have come a long way, so I think we'll actually be good this year," she said. "There were a lot of people that could have gone to state last year, so it was really close.
"I think we can represent the Southeast pretty well, but up north they're really good," she continued. "Still, I think we will have some good matches."
With a lot of competition in singles outside Southeast, Skilbred knows the team's strength will once again be in doubles.
"We're trying to figure out what will be a good combination for doubles and mixed doubles, and those areas will be our strength," Skilbred said. "We've got some up-and-coming singles players, but we don't quite know what the competition is like in Fairbanks and Anchorage yet. We'll see more of that in the next couple of weeks, but we may be just a step short in boys' and girls' singles as far as being at the top."
The Juneau-Douglas tennis team will travel to Fairbanks this weekend and Anchorage the weekend of Sept. 3-4 before returning to Juneau for intrasquad matches the rest of the regular season.
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