Spring boys’ tennis preview: Judges reload, aim for state tourney

Posted: March 16, 2013

Handley senior Taylor Watts starts the year as the Judges’ No. 2 seed. Watts finished with an 11-7 record last season. (Photo by Ginger Perry/The Winchester Star)
After going 19-1 at No. 2 singles a season ago, Sherando senior Chris Mikus moves up to No. 1 singles for the Warriors. Sherando went 6-2 in the Northwestern District last season and lost to Western Albemarle in the Region II quarterfinals. (Photo by Jeff Taylor/The Winchester Star)

WINCHESTER — For the Handley boys’ tennis team, the 2012 season was a lot like old times — the Judges swept the Northwestern District regular season and tournament titles for the first time since 2007, and Handley earned its first state tournament berth since winning the Group AA state title in 2005.

But the reason why the Judges have won seven state titles in their history is because when they have success, they’re not satisfied with it — they want more. And reaching the Group AA semifinals last year is definitely something they want to build on.

“We have a number of players back who know what it takes to get there and know how hard you have to work,” said Handley’s 18th-year coach Jimmy Robertson. “Hopefully we’ll continue to work hard throughout the season so we can reach our goals.”

The Judges lost three members of their top six from last year, including No. 1 singles player Gary George and No. 3 singles player Mark Sfeir.

But the players who are stepping into those same exact positions at this point in the season are pretty seasoned in their own right despite being freshmen, and they have strong bloodlines.

Parker Wilson — the younger brother of former James Wood girls’ standout Headley Wilson, a 2011 Group AA singles finalist — is playing at No. 1 singles, and Carter Watts — the younger brother of No. 2 singles player Taylor Watts (11-7 last year) — is playing No. 3 singles. Both Wilson and Watts have both stood out in their age groups on the USTA circuit.

Though Handley will once again be the team to beat in the Northwestern District, Sherando — which has won the past four district tournament singles titles — will once again have a contender for that crown.

Warriors senior Chris Mikus went 19-1 at No. 2 singles for Sherando last year, and he moves into the top spot this year with the graduation of Trey Scott, last year’s Winchester Star Boys’ Tennis Player of the Year. Mikus and Scott teamed to make the Group AA semifinals in doubles last year to become the first tennis players in school history, boys or girls, to make a state tournament.

The area will also feature two coaching changes. Mark Pennypacker, who has coached girls’ soccer and swimming for James Wood in the past, will step in for the Colonels. Patrick Hausammann, who has played tennis throughout his life, including for his high school team in Hughesville, Pa., is Clarke County’s new coach.

Handley

Coach: Jimmy Robertson, 18th year

Last year: 16-4 (8-0 Northwestern District); district regular season and tournament champions; lost to E.C. Glass in the Group AA semifinals.

Key losses: Gary George, Mark Sfeir, Richard Bock.

Top returning players: Taylor Watts, Sr., Matt Drunagel, Sr., Buster Wigley, Sr.

Newcomers (to lineup): Parker Wilson, Fr.; Carter Watts, Fr., Hamilton Merrill, Sr., Parker Dorsey, Jr., Ned Selzer, Sr.

Outlook: Even if the Judges don’t get pushed in some of their regular-season matches, Robertson won’t be concerned about finding competition for his team. It’s going to be on display every day in practice.

“I think you’re going to see a lot of different lineup changes this year, because a lot of our guys are pretty close together,” Robertson said. “That’s going to make us better.”

Another thing that should also make Handley better is yet another tough non-district schedule. The Judges, who opened the year with an 8-1 win over Washington (W.Va.), will face Mercersburg (Pa.) twice, as well as two private schools out of Richmond in Trinity Episcopal and St. Christopher’s.

Though Wilson’s only a freshman, Robertson likes what he sees out of him.

“He’s a consistent player,” Robertson said. “He’s got excellent court awareness.”

Sherando

Coach: Steve Jennings, 7th year

Last year: 12-7 (6-2 Northwestern District); lost to Western Albemarle in Region II quarterfinals.

Key loss: Trey Scott.

Top returning players: Chris Mikus, Sr., Matt Blaney, Jr., Nik Mikus, So., Andrew Spieles, Jr., Jared Linz-van de Crommert, Jr.

Newcomers: Grant Breem, Fr.

Outlook: The Warriors don’t quite have the depth that saw them win three district regular season and tournament titles over four seasons from 2008-11, and with Scott no longer on the team, they lose a big leader.

As a result, Jennings just wants his players to focus on what they can do to improve in the early going. Jennings is hoping that Chris Mikus and Blaney can lead the way at the top of their lineup.

“I think Chris can have a really good year if he can handle the pressure of being No. 1,” said Jennings, whose team is 1-1 after losing to Spotswood and beating Brentsville. “Matt Blaney is consistent, has a big heart, and runs down everything. He’s a good defensive player who keeps hitting the ball until the other player makes a mistake.”

Chris Mikus’ younger brother Nik will serve as the No. 3 singles player, and Jennings is looking to the freshman Breen to step in at No. 4.

Millbrook

Coach: Mike Arney, 5th year

Last year: 8-9 (4-4 Northwestern District); lost to Sherando in district tournament semifinals.

Key losses: Matt Cress, Jack Carmichael, Tre Weaver, Justin Clemens

Top returning players: Chris Wiens, Sr., Christian Truong, Jr., Sean Franz, Jr.

Newcomers: Dillon Rice, Jr., Conner Pierson, Jr., Matt Sousa, Jr., Mitch Ulich, Jr.

Outlook: Though Arney believes the Pioneers can do some good things this year, it might take some time.

“I think we’ve got a lot of potential,” Arney said. “But we’ve got a lot of first-year players and we’re young as far as experience.”

Millbrook, whose record is now 1-1 after beating Warren County 8-1 Friday — is led by Wiens at No. 1 singles.

“He’s grown a lot since last year and is a more consistent player,” Arney said.

The newcomer Rice may wind up at No. 2 singles, though Troung and Frantz are right behind him.

James Wood

Coach: Mark Pennypacker, 1st year

Last year: 3-14 (0-8 Northwestern District); lost to Handley in district tournament semifinals.

Key losses: Devin Carter, Luke Davenport.

Top returning players: Mason Beeler, Jr., Travis Beeler, Jr., Christian Whitacre, So., Michael Weimer, Sr.; Kevin Realegeno, So.

Newcomers: Austin Harney, Fr., Jacob Calabrese, Fr.

Outlook: The Colonels are coming off a rough season, and they lose a major player in Carter, who advanced to the Region II tournament in singles.

As a result, Pennypacker just wants his team to focus on the basics, and so far, he couldn’t be more pleased with their work ethic.

“We have a number of young men who haven’t played before,” said Pennypacker, whose team was 0-2 after losing to Washington (W.Va.) 9-0 on Wednesday. “We had a tough match Wednesday, but three of the boys stayed on for an hour after the match to work on their game.

“We emailed the athletic director because we hadn’t seen anything like that before after a competition. It shows they’re passionate about it and want to get better.”

The Colonels do have some experience though. Pennypacker said he’ll definitely be relying on the Beeler brothers’ knowledge, and they’ll play No. 1 and 2 singles this season.

Clarke County

Coach: Patrick Hausammann, 1st year

Last year: 0-13 (0-4 Bull Run District).

Key losses: Cory Russman, Tim May, Jordan O'Hare, Ben Genda, Chase Ohm, Steve Zumbaugh.

Top returning player: Jack McGraw, Sr.

Newcomers: Eli McGraw, Fr., Michael Dietz, Fr., Andrew Erickson, Fr., Richie Bonett, Jr., Josh Vinson, Fr.

Outlook: Clarke County boys’ tennis program is in its third year after being resurrected following a four-year hiatus, and the Eagles are still during looking for their first win since restarting.

Hausammann is enthusiastic about helping build the Eagles up though. He’s thinking about setting up clinics for middle schoolers with Clarke County Parks and Recreation, he’s recruited players, and he’ll have former Eagles coach and longtime Sherando coach Gerald Dodson around to work with the team, too.

“It’s going to be a building process,” Hausammann said. “We really have to focus on the fundamentals, because we don’t have much experience.”

Hausamann said he’s liked the effort from his team so far, and he’ll definitely be leaning on Jack McGraw’s experience. McGraw is playing No. 1 singles, and he and his younger brother Eli are playing No. 1 doubles.

“He’s a strong player for us, and he’s doing a good job keeping everyone positive,” Hausammann said.

— Contact Robert Niedzwiecki at  rniedzwiecki@winchesterstar.comFollow on Twitter @WinStarSports1