Lions, Warriors may lock horns for title
Kight, Witt, Martin, Thomas and Downes on singles ladder; Morris, Lutz open at No. 1 doubles
Maybe Shel Gunther is trying to move the bull’s eye to another target, or maybe he’s just telling it like it is.
“Easton looks to be the team to beat,” Queen Anne’s County High’s longtime boys’ head tennis coach wrote in an email sizing up the North Bayside competition. “They had a very good team last year and most of their squad is back with a good freshman class coming in.”
While Warriors head coach Dick Kemp won’t go as far as agreeing with the team- to- beat tag, he’s not waving off Gunther’s assessment either.
“I feel like I have one of the best boys’ teams I’ve ever had,” Kemp said.
With North Bayside runnerup North Caroline graduating its entire singles ladder from last season’s 15- 3 team, Queen Anne’s and Easton could easily turn this year’s battle for the division crown into a two- team race.
The Lions graduated their No. 1 singles player from a year ago, Grant Witt, as well as Michael Hershberger. Also gone is the top doubles team of David Grzesik and Taylor Moore, who accounted for one of Queen Anne’s two wins in last year’s 5- 2 loss to James M. Bennett in the Bayside Conference title match.
“Losing five starters stings,” Gunther wrote in the email. “Hopefully our underclassmen can fill those voids.”
Veterans Robbie Kight, Blake Witt and Parker Martin give Queen Anne’s a solid 1- 2- 3 combination at the top of the singles ladder. Austin Thomas — part of the Lions’ other doubles win at Baysides last year — settles in at No. 4, while Alex Downes moves into the fifth spot. Tanner Morris and Matt Lutz opened the year at No. 1 doubles and hope to have Queen Anne’s challenging for its sixth division championship in nine years.
If Easton reaches its potential, Kemp could have the Warriors looking at their first boys’ division title since 1983, and possibly their first conference championship since 1982.
“We beat James Bennett (in
preseason) and the four matches we won, we won easily,” Kemp said. “And we could have won two of the three we lost. They (Bennett) haven’t lost in four years or so. That was very encouraging.”
Freshman Lucas Joshi, who battled Kent Island’s Kyle Allewalt to a tiebreaker in last Monday’s season-opener, is at No. 1 for Easton. Senior Devin Williams moves from No. 4 to 2, while the rest of the singles ladder has junior Luca Tondin at 3, and freshmen Aidan Steinley and Alex Matsche at 4 and 5, respectively.
Easton’s doubles teams of Xavier Rahim and Sean Wilson, and No. 2 Christian Startt and Brian Mejai, won their openers, and figure to offer further muscle.
“With the boys I feel I’m stronger at every position than last year,” Kemp said. “I’ll be disappointed if we’re not (one of the best teams).”
The decision of James M. Bennett’s Matt Ryan — the Bayside’s three-time defending boys’ singles champion — might boost the title chances of Queen Anne’s, Easton, and Kent County’s Ryan Santmyer.
Santmyer, who won his first 18 matches last year before falling to Ryan in straight sets in the conference final, looks to again be the top player in the North. The sophomore strengthened his game during the offseason, playing in United States Tennis Association Tournaments and practicing three days a week at an indoor facility in Elkton.
Santmyer and senior James Ciganek — 11-4 last season at No. 2 — could give the Trojans one of the Bayside’s better onetwo punches. If Kent County is to be a serious contender for a team title though, head coach Cassie Swayze will need solid production from the rest of her lineup. Senior Chris Hostetler moves from 5 to 3 in singles, while Andrew Carr and R.J. Ball are at the 4 and 5, respectively, after playing doubles a year ago. Kent is young at doubles, where sophomores Gabe Warner and Johnathan Campbell are projected at No. 1, and sophomore Zachary Sherman and freshman Nolan Lindsey at No. 2.
Here’s a look at the rest of this year’s local teams:
Kent Island Allewalt, who went 10-7, placed fourth at districts and earned AllMid-Shore first-team honors a year ago as a freshman, returns to the No. 1 spot.
“His serve is better and he’s stronger,” head coach Pete Bendel said of Allewalt.
Sophomore Connor Abplanalp is at No. 2, while the rest of the ladder is filled by seniors Evan Tyler, Reed Blaber and Connor Ruddo.
“It’s the same thing every year,” Bendel said. “Guys who play football or soccer in the fall, they’re looking for something to do in the spring and they decide to try tennis. Then they find out they like it.”
The Bucs will have Preston Wilder and Jack Franklin at No. 1 doubles, and Tyler Middleton and Ben Schrecongost at No. 2. Bendel said Eddie Biven could also see time at doubles.
Saints Peter and Paul The Sabres move from the Eastern Shore Independent Athletic Conference to the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association C Conference this season. That shift will have Saints Peter and Paul playing two formats: three singles and two doubles matches in conference, compared to the familiar five-singles, two-doubles set-up outside of conference.
Sophomores man four of the five singles spots, with William Rath and Michael Morrell at 1 and 2, and Aaron Prince and Max Hardesty at 4 and 5. Senior Brandon Wass is at three.
“I think we’re coming along,” head coach Tom White said. “The three singles guys will do fairly well I think. Doubles is a work in progress.”
Adam Leister (Jr.) and Dylan Christopherson (So.) will be at No. 2 doubles in non-conference play.
Gunston Senior David Rogers, who crewed last year, has impressed head coach Diane Johnson at No. 1. Tyler Judd, Nat Vivian, Steve Goss and William Jaing fill out the singles ladder. Freshmen Henry Shindler and Malachi Graham are the No. 1 doubles combination, while classmates Brooks Armstrong and Dylan Shreve are at No. 2.
“We’re young but extremely athletic,” Johnson said.
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Colonel Richardson’s Gabby Galante slides around the tag of Queen Anne’s catcher Gracie Ray to give the Colonels a 6-5 lead in the sixth inning last Thursday afternoon.
Blake Witt will move up to No. 2 singles this season for the Queen Anne’s County High boys’ tennis team.