Lehighton will look to build on the success it enjoyed a year ago, while Jim Thorpe, Palmerton and Pleasant Valley all hope to rebound from losing seasons.
Following are the previews for the four Times News area schools that have boys tennis teams.
… The Olympians, who had a 3-12 record a year ago, will need to replace almost their entire roster. The loss of Brendan McDermott (No. 1 singles), Sam Seacrest (No. 2 singles), Haven Johnson (No. 3 singles; No. 1 doubles) and Evan Rosenbrook (No. 1 doubles) has created significant holes in head coach Sam Lux’s lineup.
… Jayden Chambers enters the 2023 season as the Olympians’ lone senior, and also the only returning player on the roster. Chambers saw action at both No. 3 singles and No. 1 doubles a year ago. “Jayden is a very talented player who has only learned the game in the past two years,” Lux said. “He is athletic, and as his comfort level and experience on the court continues to grow, he will be a tough matchup for anyone he comes up against this season. He will be our only experienced player this year, so it will be important for him to set the tone and help the younger players learn the game and develop a winning mindset.”
PLENTY OF FROSH
… The remainder of the Jim Thorpe roster will be comprised of freshmen. Jaxson Gehris, Maxwell Priore, Alex Plesniarski and Ian Walck have shown great potential in pre-season and will fill out the lineup behind Chambers.
… “With two freshmen in the starting singles lineup and two more playing doubles, the lack of experience in our lineup will make it tough to win some matches early on. But I’ve been excited and encouraged with how the group has been learning, and I feel confident we will become more competitive towards the end of the season,” Lux said. “Having four freshmen on the team will provide a nice building block for the program moving forward. I’m also expecting a great season from Jayden (Chambers). He will be playing a lot higher up the ladder this year, but with his improved skill set, I feel confident that he is ready for the role.”
… After having a losing record in 2021, Lehighton showed dramatic improvement a year ago, compiling an 11-4 record. Coach Cody Shuler enters his third season with the intent of keeping things on the upswing. “I think that we are going to have a strong season,” Schuler said. “We will have talented and dedicated players at No. 1 and No. 2 singles, and an experienced group of players behind them. That combination should provide a challenge to all our opponents.”
BIG SHOES TO FILL
… The Indians’ roster did take a big hit with the graduation of 2022 Times News/Lehigh Valley Health Network Tennis Player of the Year Aaron Miller. Miller has occupied the No. 1 singles position in the Lehighton lineup the last two seasons.
… Sophomore Bayto Cokrilja enters his second season with the Indians and will take on the No. 1 singles’ role. Right behind him in the lineup will be his younger brother, Bekim Cokrilja, an incoming freshman. “Bayto is a year-round player, who is going to be a powerhouse this season,” Schuler said. “Bekim has moved into the No. 2 singles spot. He and his brother practice together year-round. They form a young duo that is going to be a strong asset for the Lehighton tennis team over the next three years.”
RETURNING FOR THE TRIBE
… The Indians have a number of other players returning with experience. Among the returnees who will be counted on heavily are seniors Daniel Hoppes, Luke Blauch, Edie Cordes, Lucas Schatz, Zane Smith, and Owen Kovach.
… The Bombers will have a trio of seniors – Justin Sebelin (No. 1 singles), Riley Fallon (No. 2 singles) and Tyler Hager (No. 1 doubles) – who have made huge strides in their games over the last two years.
NEW TO THE SPORT
… Emily Bollinger (Sr.), Kaitlyn Heimbach (Jr.), Anderson Garcia (Fr.) and Hadlee Lake (Fr.) all enter their first season with the program. Bomber head coach Jennifer Danzeisen said all four are good athletes who play other varsity sports and have decided to give tennis a try this spring. “They are learning the sport, but show great potential,” the sixth-year Bomber head coach said.
… “I really believe we will have a better year this year than we did last year,” said Danzeisen, whose Bombers finished 2-12 overall and 2-9 in the Colonial League last season. “It’s always tough teaching new players from scratch, but our first-year players aren’t afraid to get on the courts and learn. Our team is small, but I wouldn’t count us out. They will do their best to win, or make the other players work for the wins. As always, I love to see players get better by the end of the season and make great shots.”
UP FOR THE CHALLENGE
… At Palmerton, tennis is a co-ed sport with the Bombers’ lineup about evenly divided between boys and girls. “Girls are playing against aggressive boys,” said Danzeisen. “But they aren’t afraid. Over the years, some of my best players have been girls, and that’s what I love about tennis. It’s a lifetime sport, and you can play no matter your age or gender. I love having a co-ed team, and seeing them work together on getting better.”
… “Palmerton is a great school,” said Danzeisen, who is a Business and Technology teacher at the high school. “The kids are respectful, supportive, and motivated. I can’t ask for anything more.”
GRADUATION HITS HARD
… A year after having everyone return to his roster from the season before, Pleasant Valley head coach Mark Allison faces a different story entering the 2023 season. The Bears, who finished 4-13 overall last season, saw six players – Atticus Gordon, Donovan Rizvic, Jack Ertle, Sam Knudsen, Edward Lesnik and Colin Wentzel – graduate.
… Allison welcomes back five returning players from a year ago, including juniors Ben Keppel (singles), Damon McMurtry (doubles) and Chris Weiner (doubles); and sophomores Noah Dolan (singles) and Roman Steuer (singles).
… In addition to the returning varsity team members, Allison has several first-year team members who could see playing time at doubles. They include seniors Fella Olaniyan and Brian Hargrave; junior Aaron Rehrig; sophomore Clark Po and freshman Jens Hansen.
… “We have a young and inexperienced team at both singles and doubles,” said Allison. “The players have been working hard and have a great attitude. With cooperation from the weather, we will continue to improve as the season progresses.”
HEADED IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION
… The Bears’ roster numbers are headed in the right direction.“The program’s numbers suffered under COVID,” Allison said. “I am happy we have built the team back up to 16 members. With our team being so young overall, the future is looking brighter for the program.”
(Compiled by TJ Engle)
Several members of the Lehighton tennis team talk on the courts before Monday’s match. The Indians were the only area team with a winning record a year ago. RON GOWER/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS