CHARLOTTESVILLE — In his first season at the helm, Tom Huff wanted to shake things up as Eastern Hancock’s new tennis coach.
Disregarding the idea of incumbents, every spot was open in 2016, and several names and positions changed week to week as his players pushed each other.
In his second year, Huff is carrying the same philosophy with the exception of one starting spot in his lineup this fall.
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Despite losing two starters to graduation and four overall, the Royals will once again look familiar at No. 1 singles, where senior Duncan Cherry returns until challenged.
“He looks like he’s improved. He’s doing really well at the net. I’d like to see him come up to the net a little bit more this year,” Huff remarked on Cherry’s game. “He’s working really hard and is hitting really well.”
Cherry will be one of two seniors projected to start for the Royals this season. The other is Jack Smith, who resumes his role at No. 1 doubles.
Two varsity newcomers join the mix, including at singles, where freshman Kodey Huff will start at No. 2.
Kodey Huff is filling the role left behind by Corbin Jennings, a 2017 graduate. Jennings scored the team’s lone point in its 4-1 loss to Mt. Vernon in the sectional quarterfinals and was third at No. 2 singles in the Hancock County Tournament.
“(Kodey) started his seventh-grade year and really picked it up. He was No. 2 singles his seventh-grade year and moved up to No. 1 his eighth-grade year,” Huff said. “He did really well. He won around 10 matches his eighth-grade year.”
At practice this preseason, Kodey Huff and Cherry have drilled together and will continue to face off. Cherry is mentoring the younger Huff, who could vie for the No. 1 spot in 2018.
“(Kodey) does hit well against him,” Huff said. “I’m trying to keep those two hitting against one another at practice. I think it helps them both.”
Having Smith at doubles helps ease the loss of his former partner Tony Cape, who graduated. Ian White, a junior, will move up from No. 2 doubles to team with Smith and bolster the lineup’s experience. Smith spent some time at No. 3 singles in 2016 as well.
White pushed for time at No. 3 singles in the preseason, but Peyton Robertson, a sophomore will get the nod after playing some varsity doubles last year.
“(Peyton) and Ian are pretty close. I want to try him at No. 3 singles and see what happens,” Huff said. “I’ll give it a few matches and see if we need to make any changes.”
At No. 2 doubles, the Royals will have two new starters in junior Keegan Bowman and freshman Kegan Kendall. Cameron Alberts, a sectional starter at No. 3 singles, and Caleb Kramer, who started at No. 2 doubles, opted not to return this season.
“We have three new varsity players that didn’t play in this position last year, but they’re working,” Huff said. “Ian White said he really worked a lot (this offseason) and you can tell. He’s hitting the ball better. We’re looking for that consistency from everyone.”
The Royals ended the 2016 campaign with a 6-9 record after going 9-8 in 2015. Their best marks since 2000 was 17-5 in 2002 and 17-4 in 2010.
With time, the Royals hope to break past 10 wins this fall for the first time since going 12-7 in 2014.
Depth and challenge matches will keep the team motivated, Huff said, who has high expectations for junior varsity players Brady Ellis, a sophomore, and Sam Blocker, a sophomore. Both could factor into the varsity’s seventh spot as the year progresses.
“The more Brady plays, the better he gets,” Huff said. “I think he could push for No. 7 on the team.”
2016 record: 6-9
2017 key returners: Duncan Cherry (Sr.), Jack Smith (Sr.), Ian White (Jr.), Peyton Robertson (So.), Keegan Bowman (Jr.)
Key losses: Tony Cape, Corbin Jennings, Camerson Alberts, Caleb Kramer
2016 recap: The Eastern Hancock Royals posted their first losing campaign since going 5-9 in 1994 and finishing 8-8 in 2012. Corbin Jennings led the team with a third-place showing in the Hancock County Tournament and by winning at No. 2 singles during the Royals’ 4-1 sectional quarterfinals loss to Mt. Vernon. He won 12 matches while Duncan Cherry was 8-11 at No. 1 singles.