The Nicolet boys tennis team lost two long-time familiar and highly successful faces to graduation last year in top singles players Calin Dumitrescu and Kevin Ballecer, but coach Tim Koppa is confident his defending North Shore Conference champions have the material to be a contender again this season.
'It is hard to replace two guys who you count on for at least 25 wins a year each season,' he said, 'but we do have a good mix of seniors, a nice group of juniors and some really nice freshmen coming in ... it's a good group. It'll just take some time to figure out where they fit in. It's a different season.'
Meanwhile, at Whitefish Bay, the Blue Dukes are encouraged by a 4-3 early-season win over state D2 power and area rival University School.
'The singles lineup could be strong depending on who we match-up with,' said Blue Duke coach Phil Kelbe. 'We're forming all new doubles teams this year, adding four freshmen to the roster this year, which is more than usual.
'It could be a competitive battle this year with Nicolet and Homestead for NSC. Cedarburg also has most of their players returning and will be a factor in the conference.'
Meanwhile, Homestead, which was second in the North Shore last season, will build around returning top singles player junior Eric Mullins and senior Aaron Holman, who was part of a state qualifying doubles team last spring.
In light of the graduation losses, Nicolet will go with senior letter winner Rafael Barash at the top singles spot, while freshman Jaden Aranda, part of the famed Aranda tennis family out of Shorewood, will be in the mix for one of the other top singles spots.
Others in that mix include senior Sam Scribner, junior Ari Robinson and freshman Ben Chester.
The entire varsity unit includes only two seniors. Others in the group include juniors Joe Azbel, Julian Lowe, Etyan Robinson and Jack Steinberger and sophomores Thomas Nguyen, Sunil Sabnis and Eli Winter. Nicolet returns five of its six starting doubles players from a year ago.
Koppa thinks Bay could be a serious contender in this highly competitive NSC season.
'They may be the frontrunner,' he said, 'but it should be close and should be exciting ... we took our annual trip to Hilton Head (South Carolina) where we got some really good hitting in. I think we'll be OK.'
For Bay, the varsity roster includes sophomore Patrick Conta, senior Brennan Gregg, senior Anthony Enea, freshman Christopher Hastings, junior Ben Rackovan, junior Will Korbitz, freshman Jack Gonzales, junior Toyo Borgmann, freshman Grey Waedekin, freshman Jacob Gurican and seniors Cal Arnold and Nicholas Hatch.
Kelbe was greatly encouraged by the USM win.
'There were four three-set matches, and ironically, the final two that decided the match were at four singles and three doubles, which for us were freshmen,' he said. 'Nothing like throwing them right into the fire right away for their first high school match.
'The singles matches were all high quality, especially for this early in the season, with the cold weather; whereas our doubles, even though we won two of the three, are going to be a 'work in progress' and will take time to develop. Overall, though, it was a big win, especially for our younger kids, against a quality team.'