TEN­NIS

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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.”

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