There are two key leadership changes among area varsity boys tennis head coaches this fall.
New court bosses at Hagerstown and Northeastern will lead their respective teams into battle versus usual powers Centerville and Lincoln, as well as the rest of the Tri-Eastern Conference.
One big factor that hasn’t changed is Centerville’s boys tennis excellence, as the Bulldogs are again coached this season by Randy Ecker, who is starting his 35th season.
The defending conference champion Bulldogs lost only one player from a TEC title team that went 7-0 in 2014, and 19-2 overall.
Ecker and his wife Susie, the assistant coach, are working with a roster of 11 players, with eight projected to compete for the seven varsity starting slots.
The veteran coach expects sophomore Nolan Witte to fill the No. 1 singles spot after a very successful freshman season last year as a singles player.
Seniors Justyn North and Craig Lair are strong candidates for the other singles positions while no fewer than five juniors are in the mix for the two doubles pairings.
Juniors Skylar Benedict and Blake Shook were doubles players for the ‘Dogs last year, and could well fill a like position again this time around.
A trio of classmates in Nathan Cheek, Josh Duke and Bennett Walther are in the fight for slots as well.
“I think Lincoln, Hagerstown and Northeastern are all contenders in the TEC, as well as us, and all of our teams have a lot of guys back,” Ecker said. “My players have worked hard and well in the offseason, and I am optimistic about our chances.”
Centerville begins regular season match play at home versus Randolph Southern on Thursday, then in the Peru Invitational on Saturday.
As for the sectional, Ecker sees host Richmond as the solid favorite.
“Richmond has a very good singles lineup, and is solid in the other spots also,” he said. “I think it will be a real challenge for us, or anybody else, to challenge them in the sectional.”
Another face missing from the Centerville program this year is former Bulldog assistant coach Courtney Ecker.
Randy Ecker’s daughter, Courtney, is the newly-named head coach for the Hagerstown boys team, and the former Centerville girls tennis standout, and college player, is excited for the season.
“I expect our team to be very competitive, and hope that we can beat some teams that Hagerstown hasn’t beaten for a while,” Courtney Ecker said.
Leading the returning players is senior Ben Tinkle, who is expected to play No. 1 singles. Junior Isaiah Neal is slotted for No. 2 singles, and six Hagerstown players are currently competing for the other five varsity spots.
This group includes seniors Nick Arnold and Jordan Auker, juniors Evan Hoover and Trey Kelley, plus sophomore Drew Pyle and freshman Caleb Neal.
The Tigers have a scheduled match Tuesday, then host a Saturday invitational with a field that includes Lincoln.
A second area school to have a new head coach is Northeastern with Marc Irwin, who replaces the very successful Mike Esposito.
Irwin was a player at Richmond High School from 1986-89 under long-time Red Devil head boss Gary Eagles. Esposito is assisting Irwin during this transition season.
A large and experienced squad of 22 players is out for the team this fall, with 10 seniors expected to fill many of the starting slots.
Among the Northeastern senior players are Austin Kenworthy, Michael McDaniel, Austin Clay, Alex Stiner, Levi Wick and Ryan Wogoman.
Underclass players expected to compete for a position are Chris Cohee, Zac Lester, Tanner Angel, and junior Nate Reynolds, a boys hoop standout for the Knights.
“We expect to be extremely competitive throughout the season, and I think the leadership and strong family-like unity in the program really helps,” Irwin said of the atmosphere built during the Esposito years.
Irwin projects Centerville as the TEC favorite, and the two county rivals are scheduled to meet Sept. 23 for a TEC dual match. NHS hosts the conference match beginning on Sept. 26.
Northeastern opens the regular season Wednesday at Richmond.
Another returning veteran head coach is Elizabeth Wonsetler at Lincoln.
The Golden Eagles return six varsity players, losing only Eric Underwood, at No. 1 singles, to graduation.
“Seth Martin is slotted at No. 1 singles,” says Wonsetler, “with Seth Morris at No. 2 singles.”
The coach expects the other four returning players to form the two doubles pairings.
A pair of incoming freshmen are competing at No. 3 singles.
“The TEC looks to be very competitive again, as most schools lost no more than two players to graduation,” Wonsetler added.
The Golden Eagles are scheduled to open the regular season against Blue River on Friday.
Winchester and Union City hope to push the other contenders for TEC honors, and both squads have many returning players.
“We have everybody returning this season,” Winchester coach Dennis Streeter said.
A total of 13 players are competing for varsity spots, with 11 of those returning seniors, juniors and sophomores.
Two new juniors to the program are Michael Georgi and Darke Moody. The seniors are Wesley Martin, Arick Miller, Austin Bogue, Hagan Lawson and Levi Baldridge.
“With a more experienced team, we’re going into the season with more confidence and ability, and should be very competitive,” Streeter said.
Two other juniors are Aaron Wallace and Mason Melton.
• Union City
Doug Jefferies is back as the coach at Union City.
“We have 13 boys on this year’s team, but are still very young,” Jefferies said. “The team is still very young, as five sophomores will compete with two seniors and one junior for seven varsity positions.”
The sophomores mentioned by the coach are Chase Jefferies, Zach Bradbury, Jacob Fulk, Elijah Hatton and Gabe Loesch, while the senior players are Dustin Hahn, Reece Martin, Isaac Root and Kullen Weiss. The team’s lone junior is Elijah Thornburg.
“I feel pretty good moving forward about the direction the program is headed,” Doug Jefferies said. “We are still learning and gaining experience.”
• Union County
Joshua Lone is back as head coach for Union County, and is working with 12 players for Patriot boys tennis, including five seniors.
Dillon Miller, Eric Robinson and Adam Kibbey are returning seniors, while classmates Cole Reiboldt and Jamison Walters are newcomers to the program.
Owen Miller and Austin Bowling are junior players.
Lone projects Dillon Miller at No. 1 singles, with Owen Miller at No. 2 singles and Kibbey at No. 3 singles. Projected at No. 1 doubles are the duo of Robinson and Bowling, with a No. 2 doubles pairing of the new senior player Walters with an incoming freshman in Jacob Stansberry.
“I believe we can have a strong showing,” Lone said.
“We have a decent chunk of players that are experienced, and I think some of my guys have put enough time in to be real contenders.”
• Randolph Southern
Amy Hinshaw is back as the coach for Rebel boys tennis, with 10 players seeking varsity spots.
The roster includes seniors Nick Dunham, Aaron Pearson and Jose Cervantes, along with juniors Kory Slick and Simon Weschenselder.
Five sophomores complete the team in Jordan McReynolds, Tyler Pegg, Jimmy Ashbaugh, Tyler Knotts and Devin Gutherie.
Hagerstown hosts Southern Tuesday.