tennis fast,” head coach Kenneth Griffith said. Alex Lateulere, Marshal Parent, Melissa Nelson, and MaiLin Quinto have all graduated. Behind that group of seniors, Lackey set a goal to finish in the conference’s top four, which it succeeded in doing. But even with a much less experienced group this year, the goal is exactly the same.
“We expect a little drop off. We had a lot of seniors on the team last year, howev-
er, we always look forward to the challenge,” Griffith said. His early-season goal is to “survive.” “We’re really asking a lot of our first-year players to come in and step up to the challenge.”
Part of the reason this team has a chance to accomplish its goal is because of Griffith. With consecutive All-County Coach of the Year nods, and more decades coaching than his players have lived, he has the expertise to get the most out of his players. And with a younger team, Griffith admitted he’ll have to be more hands on than in years past.
“Getting them into the game mentally,” Griffith said. “They have to become more of a student of the game. Trying to get them to that level, understanding that it’s not just about hitting the ball, but how to hit it that counts.”
Another constant for the Chargers is first singles player Azuri Hughes, the two-time reigning All-County girls Athlete of the Year. Two years ago, Lackey went 3-11, in what was another rebuilding year, but that team didn’t return an athlete the caliber of Hughes’ current stage of
development. She placed second at the SMAC tournament last year and has put in a lot of work to reach states this year.
In addition to her state goal, she said, “This year I’m pushing for winning SMAC. And also, of course, maintaining my title of being number one in the county.”
The Chargers also bring back first singles boy Ronald Stith, an All-County and All-SMAC player from the team two years ago. He should be much improved this year and also make a push for a state appearance.
“[Azuri] is the leader of
the team,” Griffith said. “She’s anchoring one of the toughest spots in the conference. And then we have Ronald Stith, who’s our co-anchor. We’re going to see where that leadership takes us this year.”
In addition to Hughes and Stith, look for Mariel Santos to step in as the second singles girl and compliment her more accomplished teammates with solid play. The three, all seniors, will have to lead a team that is much younger than the one they competed on last year, as underclassmen.
“I have to push my team-
mates harder than I tended to last year,” Hughes said of her change in approach this season. “I have to be a team leader more than last year, because last year we had more team leaders. But this year, we have more inexperienced players, so they need a little push and somebody to tell them not to give up and keep doing what they’re doing and work hard.
“I see a lot of potential. I see a lot of great players. There’s a lot of improvement from the beginning of our practices to now.”