The Whetstone High School girls tennis team returns four starters from last season when it finished 12-0 overall and won its third consecutive City League championship.
However, the Braves will be shifting personnel, as they lost their top singles player and their first doubles players to graduation.
According to coach Bucky Walters, a balanced lineup should help Whetstone in its quest to win its seventh City League-North Division title in eight seasons. The Braves went 6-0 in the City-North last year, but this year the league championship will be decided by a tournament instead of dual matches.
"I think we have very good team balance and I think that could be the difference in whether or not we can beat Centennial and continue our success," he said. "After (senior) Alex Myers at first singles, the next five or six girls are pretty comparable in talent. We may lose a court or two, but we're not weak anywhere. If we lose, it'll be because we have too many girls having an off night on the same night."
Myers was first-team all-league last season at second singles. She played behind 2013 graduate Abbie Nypaver, who had a 48-3 record the past two seasons.
"Alex is a hard worker and good baseline player," Walters said. "She has the most experience for us and we'll be counting on her a lot to lead us. She is trying to develop better play at the net and working on some new shots."
The other returning starters are junior Saoirse Jones and sophomores Lily Morris and Sophia Rizzi. All three, along with freshman Maggie Prosser, are competing for singles courts.
Morris and Rizzi played second doubles last season and were second-team all-league.
"Prosser is similar to Myers with her strong baseline play," Walters said. "Jones, Morris and Rizzi are all athletic and have solid all-around games. We're still trying to determine where they all fit in best, but all will factor in our success."
Whichever two players don't earn a starting spot at singles will play doubles. Also vying for doubles positions are seniors Lynne Connolly and Rachel Moffat and sophomores Sophia Lombard and Brenna O'Sullivan.
"Centennial has the two best players in the City League, so we have to hope our balance pays off and we are able to win the remaining courts or have someone step up and knock off one of those two," Walters said. "Although tennis is not the top priority for any of our girls, as they play other sports, it would be nice to find some success in the (Division I) sectional (tournament), too, so that's another goal."
Whetstone, which went 6-0 in the City-North and defeated Columbus West 4-1 to win the City championship last season, opens its league schedule Aug. 26 at home against Beechcroft. It will play host to Centennial in its league finale Sept. 18.
The Braves, who opened Aug. 12 against Bloom-Carroll, competed in the Division I sectional tournament at Upper Arlington last season and had no district qualifiers. Myers and Nypaver both won first-round matches in singles before losing in the second round and 2013 graduates Dora Mase and Jessica Price reached the second round before being eliminated.
Golf team primed to go to 'next level'
The boys golf team returns two of the top golfers in the City League in juniors Dylan Matthews and Carson Matthews.
Whetstone, which is seeking its fourth consecutive City championship, returns two other key players in juniors Quentin Pruneau and David Stern.
Last season, Dylan Matthews had the top nine-hole average in the league (43.0) and Carson Matthews had the third best (44.6). Both earned first-team all-league honors, while Pruneau was second-team all-league and Stern made honorable mention.
"Quentin Pruneau and the Matthews brothers played all summer and I'm expecting a lot from them," said coach Tom Philip, whose team opens Aug. 27 against Brookhaven and Mifflin at Champions. "I'd like to see any of those top four kids break through at sectional and reach the district. We want to take it to the next level and any of them are capable."
Last season, the Braves shot a 424 in the Division I sectional at The Players Club at Foxfire to finish 12th behind champion New Albany (298) as Olentangy (323) secured the fourth and final district-qualifying berth.
In league play a year ago, Whetstone went 11-0 in dual matches and shot a 183 to finish first in the nine-hole City tournament at Mentel Memorial ahead of runner-up Centennial (204). The Braves finished atop the overall league standings with 42 points, ahead of runner-up Centennial (38, 10-1).
Also on the team are senior Drew Gabalski and sophomores Cameron Corbisello and Ethan Evans.
"The boys enjoy playing together, whether it is hitting balls on the range or playing practice rounds," Philip said. "The team is young and they need to learn how to not let a bad score on one hole affect the whole round. I have confidence that this will happen as the season progresses.
"What happened last year was they couldn't eliminate a bad shot or bad hole. You're not always going to hit the fairway. If you land in the rough or behind a tree, I don't care if you play sideways. What you can't do is be a hero and turn a bogey into a double bogey, triple bogey or worse. Take your medicine and move on."