Handley boys’ tennis coach Dan Jones lists one newcomer on his team information heading into the season.
Technically he is correct since Nick Mueller did not play for the Judges last season.
But Mueller is no stranger to the Slaughter Tennis Pavilion and with the return of the top four players from last season’s team that advanced to the Class 4 quarterfinals, the Judges certainly will be among the top contenders for a state title.
Mueller and fellow senior Jack Volinsky have already helped Handley win a state crown as members of 2016 Class 4 title team that crushed every opponent in the postseason. Neither player lost a match that season.
A year later, Mueller, Volinsky and now junior Mercer Love helped the Judges reach the state title match.
Sophomore Daniel Botros and junior James Gullett were newcomers on last year’s team that advanced to the state quarterfinals. The Judges finished 18-2 last season, losing 5-3 against both state champion Riverside and semifinalist Blacksburg (which lost 5-4 to Riverside).
Those top five players could put the Judges over the top this year. Mueller was 23-1 in singles and 20-2 in teaming with Volinsky in doubles as a sophomore. Volinsky went 19-3 last season, capturing the district singles title, and went 20-2 in doubles, teaming with Love to advance to the state semifinals.
Love was 16-2 in singles, 18-2 in doubles. Gullett was 15-1 in singles, 9-1 in doubles, while Botros was 14-2 in singles and 10-1 in doubles.
Mueller spent last year at a tennis academy in Florida and Jones says it definitely shows in his game. Mueller has orally committed to play at Richmond.
“It’s crazy,” he said of Mueller’s game. “Last year he came by when he was home for a day or two and he came up and hit. He and Jack were hitting and I heard him say, ‘Now, I’m going to hit winners.’ The angles were just crazy. It’s a whole different game. It’s going to be fun to watch.”
Jones said Mueller’s return should be beneficial for both him and the program.
“It’s just great for him. I like the fact that he gets to enjoy high school tennis before he moves on and does whatever he wants,” Jones said. “… Being a part of a team and this program, No. 1 it’s great for him and No. 2 it’s great for us because the kids have a little more confidence with somebody like Nick at No. 1. I thought we were pretty successful last year and now four of our kids are dropping down a spot.”
Jones has also seen improvements in Volinsky, who will attend the U.S. Naval Academy as a student, and Love. Volinsky has an excellent serve-and-volley game, while Love, a lefty, hits with power.
“Jack is going to have the advantage that he gets to practice and warm-up with Nick,” Jones said. “It’s going to make his game better and he’s actually worked hard and he is better.
“Mercer’s game has really improved from last year,” Jones added. “His serve has really gotten better. He’s not double-faulting as much as last year.”
The one question mark is who will play at No. 6 singles and No. 3 doubles. Jones said as many as six players are battling for the No. 6 singles slot.
Jones has some options at doubles. In the Volinsky-Mueller and Volinsky-Love combos, he has two parings who have advanced to the state semifinals. Certainly, he has options.
Jones said Millbrook will be a test in the district and he expects the regional competition to be tough. State champion Riverside graduated three seniors. Blackburg returns all but one player and is led by state singles and doubles champ Frank Thompson, son of Virginia Tech tennis coach Jim Thompson.
“Once the season starts, we worry about each match as it comes along,” Jones said. “Right now, we are setting goals. And because of the situation, we’re setting are standards pretty high. Our goals are right up there where we can’t get any higher.”
Millbrook, off to a 2-0 start, placed second to the Judges last season in both the district regular season and tournament. Of the Pioneers’ five losses, three came against the Judges and one came against Riverside.
“I think they are confident,” coach Mike Arney said. “I think as a team we’ve grown over the last several years. This team is pretty strong and most of them have played before.”
Millbrook lost No. 1 player Nathan Wiens, but returns the rest of the singles lineup.
Sophomore Drake Wilfong has moved into the No. 1 spot. Wilfong joins older brother Hayden, now the No. 4 singles player at Methodist University, as top players for the Pioneers.
“Drake grew up watching Millbrook tennis and having his brother be No. 1 for four years,” Arney said. “He definitely came into the program strong and a really solid tennis player. It’s nice to continue having that tradition of a Wilfong doing well at Millbrook.”
Wilfong will be followed by junior Josh Dalton, Christian Hellwig, John Houser and Tre Parks, who all made the singles roster last season. Freshman Nate Simmons has played at No. 6 to start the season. Wilfong-Dalton, Helllwig-Houser and Park-Simmons comprise the doubles teams right now, but Arney has been known to mix combinations as the season progresses.
A familiar face will be a new head coach at Sherando this season. Garland Williams, who also is the boys’ basketball coach, will take over for Steve Jennings, who left after 12 seasons as the tennis coach. Williams has served as Jennings’ assistant for several seasons.
“I’ve always kind of enjoyed the game,” Williams said. “The opportunity came up and [director of athletics] Mr. [Jason] Barbe needed some help, so I volunteered. I’ll coach this year and we’ll see how it goes along.”
Junior Parker Gregg returns as the No. 1 player for the Warriors, currently 1-1.
“Over the time from last year to this year, his maturity level is starting to come in where he’s not worried so much about a shot he didn’t do well on,” Williams said of Gregg. “It doesn’t affect his game.”
Junior Tucker Myers, junior Keith Robertson and sophomore Joe Venturato are battling for the No. 2 through No. 4 singles slots.
Junior Gabe Palmateer and junior Colin Uhry are battling for the No. 5 and No. 6 slots. Freshman Ben Jensen and sophomore Matt Clark are also pushing at No. 6 singles.
Early in the season, the doubles combinations are No. 1 Gregg-Venturato, No. 2 Myers-Robertson and No. 3 Palmateer-Uhry, but Williams said the teams could change at some point.
James Wood also has a first-year coach who is no stranger to excellent tennis. Greg Jenkins was a scholarship player at Shepherd University.
He takes over a program that had just one significant loss, No. 1 singles player Noah Borromeo, who was runner-up to Volinsky in the district singles tournament.
Another Borromeo will take over at the top singles slot as sophomore Jonah moves up to that position.
“He has got the luxury of playing with his brother in the offseason which has helped,” Jenkins said of Jonah Borromeo.
Junior Cole Creamer, junior Jacob Gregg, junior Ben Ondeck and sophomore Kevin Cruz, all returnees from last season’s lineup, follow. Junior Eli Mattingly and sophomore Mason Heustis are scrapping at No. 6.
No. 1 Borromeo-Gregg, No. 2 Creamer-Ondeck and No. 3 Cruz-Heustis make up the doubles lineup right now, but adjustments could be made.
Clarke’s County’s Corey Angiulli is the third new coach. Angiulli is a former No. 1 player in high school and served as a head coach in Maryland.
The Eagles (currently 1-1) are led by senior Nick Cather at the No. 1 spot.
“Nick, he is the kid on our team that has the most fire,” Angiulli said. “He competes more than anyone else on our team. He wants to win. He’s an unorthodox kind of player. He’s more athletic than skilled if that makes sense. … He is a guy that’s going to give you 120 percent every match whether he is down 7-0 or up 7-0.”
Senior Alec Lai, sophomore Dakota Kimble, sophomore Keith Dalton, and junior Karl Bue will follow in the singles lineup. Sophomore Ian Clapp is currently No. 6.
The doubles teams are No. 1 Cather-Lai, No. 2 Kimble-Dalton and No. 3 Bue-Clapp.
Coach: Dan Jones, fifth season
Last year: 18-2 overall, 10-0 district, Class 4 Northwestern District champion, Region 4C runner-up, Class 4 quarterfinalist
Key losses: Max Thwing, Garrett Felix
Top returning players: Jack Volinsky, Mercer Love, Daniel Botros, James Gullett
Top newcomer: Nick Mueller
Jones’ outlook: “We have enough quality players that practice is going to be fun and we are going to compete in practice. Hopefully, that will show and help us in matches during the year. Somebody in Loudoun County will step up. They’ve always got great programs over there. Somebody is going to come out of that district and step up. Millbrook is always tough. They have a lot of their kids back and they are going to be tough again.”
Next match: Tuesday vs. Sherando
Coach: Michael Arney, 11th season
Last year: 14-5 overall, 8-2 district, Class 4 Northwestern District runner-up, Region 4C semifinalist
Key losses: Nathan Wiens
Top returning players: Drake Wilfong, So.; Josh Dalton, Sr.; Christian Hellwig, Jr.; Tre Parks, Sr.; Todd Houser, So.; Nick Clippinger, Jr.
Top newcomers: Nathan Simmons, Fr.
Arney’s outlook: “I’ve got mostly the same team as last year. We’re going to work on getting better than we were last year and work on being a good team. They are a good solid team and really good about helping each other out and working together. That part is really nice.”
Next match: Tuesday at Skyline
Coach: Garland Williams, first season
Last year: 7-9-1 overall, 3-6-1 Class 4 Northwestern District
Key losses: None
Top returning players: Gabe Palmateer, Sr.; Colin Uhry, Sr.; Parker Gregg, Jr.; Keith Robertson, Jr.; Tucker Myers, Jr.; Joe Venturato, So.; Matt Clarke, So.
Key newcomers: Jackson Umbenour, So.; Ben Jensen, Fr.
Williams’ outlook: “From what I witnessed from last year, I think all of their games have improved. Those guys have been playing a good bit in their summer leagues and fall practice leagues. I think their skills have improved. I believe that we be competitive throughout the league.”
Next match: Tuesday at Handley
Coach: Greg Jenkins, first season
Last year: 6-9 overall, 2-8 Class 4 Northwestern District
Key losses: Noah Borromeo
Top returning players: Jonah Borromeo, So.; Cole Creamer, Jr.; Jake Gregg, Jr., Ben Ondeck, Jr., Kevin Cruz, So.
Key newcomers: Eli Mattingly, Jr.; Mason Heustis, So.
Jenkins’ outlook: “We’re young, but the kids are looking good. They definitely have improved. Handley is going to be tough to beat regardless. I feel like we’re going to give Millbrook a run for its money. I think Sherando is going to be very competitive, too.”
Next match: Tuesday at Clarke County
Coach: Corey Angiulli, first season
Last year’s record: 4-11
Key losses: Owen Mason-Hill, Isaac Knittle.
Top returning players: Alec Lai, Sr.; Nick Cather, Sr., Keith Dalton, So., Ian Clapp, So.; Karl Bue, Jr.
Top newcomers: Daniel Lai, So.; Dakota Kimble, So.
Angiulli’s outlook: “We lost our top 2 from last year. Looking at the schedule with Jefferson County three times, James Wood twice, Millbrook and George Mason, I’ll be honest and pretty realistic. Out of the 14 matches, seven of them we probably don’t have a chance and seven of them we will be highly competitive. … Your James Woods, Millbrooks, George Masons and Jefferson Counties … those are more experiences for my kids.”
Next match: Today at Jefferson (W.Va.) Invitational