ROCHELLE — The Rochelle varsity boys tennis team may have lost its top two players to graduation last year, but head coach Kristy Eckardt said she believes the Hubs can surprise their opponents during match play this season.
Rochelle will have open spots at both varsity singles positions after graduating Kevin Zheng and three-time state qualifier Noah Griffith. The Hubs, who finished 7-12 during the 2018 season, will open their 2019 campaign at the Rock Island Invitational on Saturday, March 23.
“It’s nice to catch up and see how everybody’s doing,” Eckardt said. “It’s hard to tell where our boys will be since we haven’t been on the court yet, but I think we’ll surprise some people. I think some people may expect us to be down after losing Noah and Kevin, but we have better numbers this year than in years past and I think we’ll have more balance in our lineup.”
The Hubs will look to post better numbers in their final season as members of the Northern Illinois Big 12 Conference after earning only one NIB-12 victory in 2018 (3-2 over DeKalb). Returning players who could potentially represent Rochelle in singles play include seniors Hector Garcia and Emilio Nava, who also have varsity doubles experience.
“I’ll looking for effort and attitude from our singles players,” Eckardt said. “It’s hard to step into those positions since those players are generally facing the best players on each team. It’s about having a willingness to get better, and I’m anticipating that we’ll be shuffling people around at singles quite a bit this year.”
More returning players include juniors Gabriel Nava and Sean Flanagan, who logged nearly all of their matches at doubles last season. Freshman Jason Zheng, the younger brother of Kevin Zheng, may also inject some new blood into Rochelle’s varsity rotation this spring.
“Emilio did a really good job for us last year, and Sean worked on his game a lot over the offseason,” Eckardt said. “I think we have a good chunk of kids to work with, and some of our freshmen are looking good already. I think we’ll be able to find some good balance at doubles.”