Area teams ready for new season on court

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HANCOCK COUNTY — With a sectional field that includes all three of its Hancock County rivals, there is no rest for the Mt. Vernon girls tennis team. The four-time defending champ beefed up its regular season schedule for the upcoming campaign in hopes of holding off the local rivals — and ultimately competing in an ultra-tough regional field.

New Palestine aims to end the Marauders’ dominance using much the same strategy; the Dragons’ docket also underwent went a significant offseason upgrade. At Greenfield-Central, a promising sophomore returns behind the experienced Lindsey McCord for what should be a competitive top of the lineup. In Charlottesville, with no fewer than nine underclassmen on the Eastern Hancock roster, 2018 figures to be a season of revelation.

MT. VERNON

Mt. Vernon girls tennis coach Gabe Muterspaugh’s players have made his job pretty easy the past few years. Sectional champions four years running, the Marauders look to build on that success and extend further than any Hancock County tennis team has in recent memory.

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“What these girls have accomplished the last four years is eerily similar to what the New Pal boys have done,” Muterspaugh said. “Winning breeds winning, and these girls have bought into it and made my job pretty easy.”

A team that easily won the Hancock County tournament and the sectional last year lost only two varsity players, leaving its core intact and ready to make another run this year.

Seniors Alaina Nelson and Olivia Spicer will take the court at Nos. 1 and 2 singles, while junior Kaleigh Helm returns at No. 3 singles. Taking the court at No. 1 doubles will be senior Sophie Williams and junior Maeve Laughlin. The competition for No. 2 doubles is ongoing.

Contenders for the No. 2 doubles position — and even a singles position if things shake out that way — are Alexis Lane, who won the county tournament at No. 1 doubles last season as an injury replacement, and freshman Lydia Ruegsegger.

“Lydia is the third Ruegsegger to play for me,” Muterspaugh said. “And I’m the most excited I’ve been for a freshman player since her sister played for me years ago.”

For the past 15-plus years, winning the Hancock County sectional has meant playing in the regional at North Central, which routinely produces the team state champion. For Muterspaugh, that means his job with a team this talented is to get everyone prepared to play in that difficult spot.

“We’ve really focused on beefing up our schedule,” Muterspaugh said. “We dropped three or four teams that have been on our schedule for years and added the Zionsville Invitational and head-to-heads against Cathedral and Centerville.”

If all comes to plan, the Marauders hope to be celebrating their fifth-straight sectional championship and looking to be a force in the regional.

“Our hardest matches may end up being in practice, looking to get a spot on the varsity,” Muterspaugh said. “With that and beefing our schedule up, we should not be scared to play anyone.”

NEW PALESTINE

The New Palestine Dragons girls tennis team has embraced the underdog role for 2018. However, for Dragons coach Des Evans, he believes his team will be stronger than last year.

“Our girls have been working all year with me here at IRC (the Indianapolis Racquet Club),” Evans said. “I’m really impressed by their improvement, and I think we can be better than we were last year.”

Improving on last year would be an impressive accomplishment, as the Dragons have lost their top two singles players and a top doubles player to graduation. But a team full of juniors has been working hard to ensure no ground is lost.

Evans envisions his opening match lineup to have juniors Megan Long (No. 1 singles), Caylie Almond (No. 2 singles), and Sheridan Schrowe (No. 3 singles) in the singles positions. The lone senior on the varsity lineup is Ivy Simmons, who will pair up with Josee King, a junior, at No. 1 doubles. The junior tandem of Claire Cherry and Ashley Truman will round out the lineup at No. 2 doubles.

New Palestine has focused on improving its schedule to get ready for the postseason by playing schools like Fishers and Park Tudor, along with HHC foes Yorktown and Delta.

“There’s no other way to get ready for postseason play than to play teams that are strong,” Evans said. “It’s great match experience for the girls.

GREENFIELD-CENTRAL

Greenfield-Central’s 2017 season was a disappointing one. But with every varsity player returning for the 2018 season, things might be shaping up for a rebound, Cougars coach Michael Turpin said.

“Last season, we were still building on who we were as a team and to strengthen basic things like form,” Turpin said. “This year, with everyone having at least two years of experience, we definitely expect to be better.”

Senior Lindsey McCord returns to play No. 1 singles for the third year in 2018. Individually, she had a winning record in 2017, and Turpin is looking for her to improve her record even more this season.

“This year, she should be able to win a majority of her matches,” Turpin said. “She is growing and maturing, and that should make her record represent her ability.”

Sophomore Avery Spencer will return at No. 2 singles. Spencer served as a bright spot on last year’s team, losing few matches as a freshman.

“Last year, Avery was winning based on pure talent alone,” Turpin said. “This year, with more experience and working on match strategy, I think she has big things ahead of her.”

The rest of the lineup hasn’t been decided, Turpin said. But the returning varsity players are senior Haidyn Goodwin; juniors Kaylee Stephenson, Erin Wright and Allie Proper; and sophomore Grace Hall. Turpin also expects Kori Dixon and Grace Silcox to push for varsity experience this year as well.

“We play a tough schedule,” Turpin said. “But our goal for this year is to finish above .500 and challenge every team we face.”

EASTERN HANCOCK

For the Eastern Hancock Royals girls tennis program, the future seems bright. With losing only one player from the 2017 squad, having four sophomores slated for this season’s varsity and five freshmen joining the program this year, the program is in full swing.

“Last year, the girls improved really well from the beginning of the season to the end,” Royals coach Tom Huff said. “So, I expect that to continue now that we have more experience.”

No positions are set in stone for Huff, but four sophomores will be in strong contention for varsity: Valentina Brooks; Madison Hagan; Corina Jennings; and Chelsea McMahan. Senior Kayla Huff and juniors Cassandra Hannemann and Taylor Kline look to feature in the lineup as well.

As for team goals, Huff believes his team can improve to a .500 record this season.

“We are focusing on getting better every day,” Huff said. “So we are just going to start small, and hopefully, we’ll start snowballing and get to that record.”

Correspondent Brian Harmon contributed to this report.