Many questions surround young Concord team

Northridge High School freshman Brendan LaCounte, here playing against Lakeland in last Saturday's season-opener, has started the season as the No. 3 player for the 2018 Raiders tennis team.

Concord's run of success in boys tennis will be tested this season. 

"We're very young in experience losing six starters to graduation and Travis Hermon isn't playing this year to focus on his golf," said Concord coach Todd Denton, whose team posted an 18-3 overall record and 7-0 NLC mark last year.

Those players were among a group of talented athletes that helped the Minutemen win three straight sectional titles – five in the last six years – win four Northern Lakes Conference titles over the last five years and win two straight regional championships. Concord enters the season on a 23 match winning streak in the NLC. 

To show how young Concord is this year, there are no seniors on this year's roster.

In the mix competing for spots are juniors Bryson Schrock, Gavin Smith, Kayden Cain, Cayden Rohrer, Bailey Morrison and Brayden Newburn, sophomores Mitchell Whitehead, Thomas Burkert, Ethan Kavanagh and Samuel West and freshmen Nathan Schraw, Zak Wait and Garrett Trout.   

Goshen, which placed second in the NLC with a 6-1 record, lost nine players to graduation, but do return No. 1 singles player Ryan Harmelink and No. 3 singles player Carlos Lichty. Lichty, who's a junior, was an all-conference selection last year, while Harmelink, who's a senior, made honorable mention all-conference.

"I expected to have a smaller squad this year but it's actually a little bit bigger," said Goshen coach Daniel Love, whose squad ended up 17-4 overall. "This means we have a lot of new faces and some will be getting playing time at varsity whether they're ready or not. We're still figuring out our doubles pairings and where kids will slot into the lineup, so there's a lot of unknowns and hard to know what to expect.

"Ryan Harmelink is as mentally and physically tough as it gets. Carlos Lichty, Wyatt Fisher (senior) and Brenton Pham (junior) have all taken strides since last year so I'm excited to see how season goes regardless of what position they end up in."

With its returning talent, NorthWood looks ready to challenge for an NLC title.

Back at No. 1 singles is senior Wes Troyer, who finished 16-7 and second in the NLC. He was selected to the all-conference team and was all-state honorable mention. Junior Ben Vincent, who finished 20-3 at No. 2 singles, finished first in the NLC and was an all-conference and all-state honorable mention selection. Senior Landon Holland went 19-4 at No. 3 singles and placed second in the NLC. Senior Jack Wysong went 16-6 at doubles and finished third in the conference. A candidate to break into the starting lineup is senior Chase Horner, who finished 19-2 in JV competition at No. 1 singles. 

"I'm excited to see what this group will accomplish this season," said NorthWood coach Tif Schwartz, whose team finished 12-5 and in third place in the NLC a year ago. "They have all put some extra time in and are really pushing each other in their challenge matches. 

"This year, we had 11 new players come join our team and they're all exciting to watch. Not only will we have some experience back, but we have added several very athletic guys to our roster which will give us some extra depth, which we have not always had in the past."

Austin Christner takes over as coach at Northridge, replacing Matt Reverman.

The Raiders finished 4-3 in the NLC and 7-6 overall.

Returning letterwinners are seniors Gabe Rodino, Avery Mantyla and Cole Miller, juniors Grant Martin, Cameron Henry and Aaron Cripe and sophomore Evan Nay. 

"I'm really excited for this group of young men," said Christner. "We have great leadership from guys that have experience at the varsity level and we have some skilled underclassmen.

"The NLC is a tough conference filled with competitive teams. I'm excited to see our guys compete against some of the better teams in the area this season. Our guys are improving every day and as a coach that is a very rewarding feeling. I'm hoping our guys continue to push each other to be better men and players every day."

In its final season, Elkhart Memorial has several returning letterwinners that should benefit from last year's varsity experience.

Those players are seniors Nate Schwalm, Zach Olena and Garrett Culp, junior Luke Leazenby and sophomores Brad Walker and Kameron Kast. 

"We have a young team, but our players have displayed great competitiveness and an eagerness to learn during our practices," said Crimson Chargers coach Joe Rallo. "I love the spirit and attitude that the players will take into the 2019 season. We're very proud to wear Memorial's colors in the final season for the Crimson Chargers."

In the Northern Indiana Conference, Penn should be at the top of the league standings behind its top two singles players, Will Thurin and Aidan Sucharetza, who are juniors. 

"They've worked hard to improve their games," said Kingsmen coach Eric Bowers about the talented duo. "We also have a lot of experience with our seniors to help us compete against our tough schedule."

Other returning letterwinners are seniors Peter Yang, Jackson Buhring, Jack Dinnon and Jeffrey Du, junior Oliver Hu and sophomore Jalen Maust. 

Penn has won 17 straight sectional titles and two straight regional titles. 

Jimtown returns a strong returning nucleus from a team that finished 14-8 overall and 5-1 in the NIC South Division. 

Senior Bill Pawlak finished 14-8 at No. 2 singles, senior Sam Wort was 8-8 at No. 3 singles, senior Lucas Flick was 13-5 at doubles, senior Preston Phillips was 15-7 at doubles, junior Christian Vanderwerf and senior Koleton Dover have doubles and singles experience.

"I feel we have a lot of experienced tennis players coming back for our varsity squad," said Jimtown coach Austin Ward. "A lot of players were moved around last year, but it will definitely help bringing back seniors who have so much varsity experience. We're excited and confident in our young guys as well as we feel we have some underclassmen who are fighting for the last few varsity spots. It will definitely be a fun year and I know the kids and coaches have some high hopes for this season."

Elkhart Central will have a completely new varsity roster from last year's team, which finished 4-5 in the NIC and 7-11 overall. 

Juniors Spencer Dexter and Josh Reid, sophomore Matt DeShone and Giovanni Battista Deiana, who's a foreign exchange student from Italy, will get their first taste of varsity play. 

"I'm excited for last year's JV to compete on the varsity for the first time," said Blue Blazers coach Ric Wiskotoni. "We're improving daily, as we're still working on a lineup."

Defending sectional champion Fairfield will be led by junior Colin Hochstedler and seniors Riley Behles and Isaac Inniger. Hochstedler finished 22-4 at No. 3 singles and earned an all-Northeast Corner Conference selection. Behles and Inniger went 14-9 at No. 2 doubles. 

"Hochstedler will move up to No. 1 singles this season and Behles will play No. 2 singles," said Falcons coach Michael Filbrun. "After that, the lineup isn't quite as clear. We might need to make adjustments the first several matches to see who fits best where. 

"We've had two good weeks of practice and I'm ready to see us start to play matches. I'm also excited that we've added nine new players to the program. They've done a great job so far and I think they have a lot of potential."

There's optimism surrounding Bethany Christian, as the Bruins return several players from last year's 9-11 squad. 

Bethany Christian coach Matt Miller expects senior Caleb Shenk, junior Braden Bohn and sophomore Josh Cartwright to play singles. At doubles, Miller is counting on senior Nathan Oostland and junior Joseph Mounsithiraj, along with juniors Will Nisley and Tyson Miller. Shenk, Bohn, Oostland, Nisley and Miller are returning varsity players. Nisley and Miller went 12-8 at No. 2 doubles last year.

"I'm confident in the work that this team has put in," said Miller. "We have a deep group of underclassmen, so we have a lot of competition for our varsity spots, including seven players who had some type of varsity experience last year. 

"It's also a very connected group, which encourages and supports each other." 

  

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