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Lion tennis enters new district in underdog role

Ennis ready to pull off some 16-4A upsets
Lion tennis won’t be considered one of the district heavyweights for the first time in a long time as it enters 16-4A, but that certainly doesn’t mean Ennis can’t find team tennis success.
In the fall of 2007, Ennis finished third in district behind Corsicana and Midlothian. It marked the first time in recent memory the Lions didn’t reach the regional tournament.
“Midlothian surprised us; beating us for the first time,” said coach Keith Howard.
“I feel like we’ll match up pretty well with Midlothian this year.”
Ennis has gotten the better of Midway in recent years, but Howard feels like it’s a team on the rise and will be viewed as district favorites along with Corsicana. In fact, the coach thinks the rest of the district may consider Ennis the fifth-best team behind Midlothian and a Cleburne squad with a good tennis tradition.
“We think we can finish higher than that and surprise some people,” Howard said.
“I wish tennis would take four district teams for the postseason like other sports.”
On that note, there is a new twist to team tennis this year that should give Ennis a chance throughout the regular season. A district tournament has been added in late October.
After Ennis plays every 16-4A team once (Waco University doesn’t have a team), the district champ will automatically go to regionals while the second through fifth seeds will compete in a tourney to see who wins out and joins the top team.
“As long as we’re one of the top-five seeds, we’ll have a chance until the end,” the coach said.
“Being the underdog kind of reminds me of my first year as a coach – not knowing how good my team or anyone else was. Now, I have a good idea of how good everyone else is and not quite sure how we’ll do as a team. We’ll find out soon.”
As for the Ennis roster, the girls’ side lost Mallori French, Ragan Nichols and Beth Lane to graduation. Beth Slone played last fall and is a key loss along with French and Nichols, but Ennis returns a lot of girls who were on varsity last year.
The boys’ side returns in tact outside of Ivan Salazar and Matt French. Ennis is still a young team, but definitely has more varsity experience than it did 12 months ago.
“A lot of our kids had a good summer and we’re pumped about that,” Howard said.
Perhaps bigger news than any player’s departure is the early-season injury to senior standout Alexis Wotton. Ennis’ top-seeded girl broke her wrist on the first day of practice and won’t be able to return for four weeks.
“It’s certainly a big hit to our team,” Howard said.
“She played well enough to be district champ last year and is working to keep her fitness up until she returns.”
In the meantime, Ennis needs second seed Lorena Loera and third seed Erica Price to step their game up. All three of these seniors have been on varsity for four years now and Howard praised their ability as team leaders.
“Lorena and Erica were probably going to play No. 1 doubles anyway; now we need one of them to play No. 1 singles for a while,” Howard said.
“It’s tough at the top of the ladder.”
The four through seven seeds include Erin Sibley, Devin Butler, Marisela Almanza and Valeria Garza. All four gained some valuable varsity experience last spring.
With Wotton out early on, Katelyn Dolezalik moves into the top-seven girls who’ll see action in the district matches. She played on varsity as a freshman and is back with the team after taking a season off. The girls’ lineup is rounded out by the freshman trio of nine seed Kerri Kirkpatrick, 10 seed Britney Sibley and 11 seed Allyson Skuza.
“The four through nine seeds on the girls’ side is really a dogfight,” Howard said.
“I’m not sure how much varsity [tennis] our freshmen will play, but they’ll definitely see some varsity time and will replace the three seniors we’ll lose this year.”
Looking to the boys’ lineup, top seed Patrick Larson will have his hands full this season after accomplishing so much in 2008.
“This season is probably going to be tougher for Patrick,” Howard said.
“I think he snuck up on everybody at district [last spring], but he can’t catch anybody by surprise as a district champ and a Super Champ. Patrick can still have a great year, but every team we play will be focused on him. No matter how bad a team might be, they nearly always have one good player and that’s who Patrick will face every time.”
The two seed is filled by Alex Beggs and Howard is excited about the sophomore’s summer progress. Three seed Alex May will likely play No. 2 doubles with Larson. Four seed Morgan Graham is another player coming off a strong summer and Howard thinks he might play No. 1 doubles with Beggs.
“I think we can mix any of the top-four guys and still have two great doubles’ teams,” Howard said.
Five seed Mario Jiron is a senior who gained some varsity experience last year. The top seven set to compete at district matches is rounded out by freshmen in the form of six seed Casey Crow and seven seed John Lane.
“It’s asking a lot of freshmen to play on varsity, but these guys are stepping up and working hard,” Howard said.
“We’re excited to see what they can do. All six of our freshmen will get their feet wet [on varsity] early in their careers.”
The final four boys in the varsity picture include eight seed Justin Dlabaj, nine seed Scotty Minton, 10 seed Brooks Graham and 11 seed Stephen Rainey. While Graham is the third freshman among the 11, Minton and Rainey are seniors. When the three senior boys graduate, Crow, Lane and Brooks Graham will return as experienced sophomores.
Like a baseball manager might consider pitching matchups, Howard will mix and match his doubles teams depending on what the strengths of Ennis’ opponents are each time out.
“It’s about putting our team in the best position to win,” Howard said.
As for the all-important district race, Howard has talked to his players about what it will take to beat Corsicana and Midway.
“A lot of things will have to align for that to happen, but not as much needs to go just right for us to beat Midlothian or Cleburne,” he said.
“I really think we can battle Midlothian and Cleburne for third. Corsicana and Midway are good, but they’re not unbeatable. All teams go through misfortune at some point and it’s up to you to take advantage of it.”
Howard doubts the coaches at Corsicana or Midway are overlooking the Lions, but he thinks their players might be. That’s fine by him.
“I want our team to keep its [collective] head down, work really hard and after the first round of district we’ll see where we’re at,” the coach said.
“If teams overlook us, I think we’ll capitalize on it.”
The Lion tennis team opens the fall season today at the Frisco Team Tournament.

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Posted by on Aug 22 2008. Filed under News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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