The Olentangy High School boys tennis team enjoyed one of its most successful seasons a year ago, finishing 16-2 overall.
The Braves also went 6-1 in matches decided by 3-2 scores, including victories over Liberty and Orange.
Third-year coach Jeff Luxenburger said he doesn't see any reason why his squad can't follow last year's success with another strong season, especially considering six of his top seven players have returned.
"In between tournament play, lessons and workouts, I'm excited to see that so many of our returning players have really put a lot of personal effort into their game," Luxenburger said. "We also have an incredible group of freshmen and new players who are coming in with tremendous determination and drive. It's our biggest squad in the years that I have been here, with 29 (players) total.
"I think I'm most excited about the fact that we have that combination of really strong returning players who are eager to lead and a large contingent of freshmen who will be the future of the program."
All three of Olentangy's singles players are back in senior Austin Karbler and juniors Arun Esakkirajmohan and Kevin Miller.
Karbler went 4-1 and placed second in a Division I sectional last season to advance to the district tournament, where he went 1-1. He finished 23-5 overall.
Returning to play doubles are seniors Matt Dean, Huzaifa Doctor and Zoheb Memon and junior Madhay Shah.
Rounding out the lineup are sophomores Vignesh Nandakumar and Adithya Sriram.
"We'll really be tapping into the experience and maturity of our returning players," Luxenburger said. "Austin Karbler is our first singles player and was one match away from qualifying for states last year, and that postseason play has really fueled his training and drive. Arun Essakirajmohan and Kevin Miller have been really active in the offseason and are playing more aggressively and consistently than I've ever seen them.
"We're also looking to step up our doubles play and execute really strongly on both of those courts. I'm also really looking forward to seeing which of our newer players, many of whom are already seasoned hitters, step up as really solid and dependable team players."
The Braves finished second (55 points, 6-1) in the OCC-Capital Division behind New Albany (82, 7-0) a year ago.
"The OCC-Capital is full of teams who have tremendous depth, and I'm looking forward to some terrific matchups all season," Luxenburger said. "I know there is a lot of young talent around the league and around the area, and I'm excited to see how we'll stack up."
Orange wants to move up in league
Orange is led by freshmen Jonathan Zhuravel (first singles) and Kyle Brace (second singles).
Vying for playing time at third singles and doubles are seniors Jason Huang, Sahil Shah and Ramandeep Vilkhu, junior Stephen Spezzano, sophomores Malcolm Low, Samay Pahouja and Eshan Shah and freshman Connor Wolfe.
"Despite losing five varsity starters from last year, I expect this team to be as good or better," second-year coach Matt Rutherford said. "With the addition of three solid ninth-graders, Zhuravel, Brace and Wolfe, and with dramatic improvement of players from last year's j.v. team, this year should be one where we are competitive with all the teams we play.
"This last offseason saw players play year-round for the first time and so they have shown an increased interest in the game and their fitness and skill has risen several levels."
The Pioneers are looking to improve on last year's third-place finish (53, 5-2) in the OCC-Capital.
"Our goals for the season are to improve on last year's 8-10 record and to qualify one singles (player) and doubles team to district," Rutherford said. "Realistically, second place looks to be a good goal for our OCC with New Albany being very strong this season. (Worthington) Kilbourne and Olentangy will be tough battles that I expect us to compete very close in and (both matches) could go either way."
Newcomers to strengthen Liberty
Liberty, which finished 6-10 overall last year, opened April 8 against Central Crossing in an OCC-Central match.
Returning to lead the Patriots are seniors Hemanth Koralla and Shravan Patel, junior Sayantan Basu and sophomore Mohit Daga.
Completing the roster are senior Jacob Saliba, junior Sonny Caradonna, sophomores Evan Haydorn, Daniel Moran and Jay Thankappan and freshman Hoang Do.
"We have a lot of depth this year and our players are very close in their ability level," first-year coach Erick Iskersky said. "Hoang Do, who has a huge serve and overall has a very powerful game with a huge forehand, will likely play No. 1 or 2 singles. ... A likely performer at No. 2 or 3 singles is Jay Thankappan, who has a lot of variety in his game and is very focused. Jay has powerful ground strokes and is very quick."
The Patriots will attempt to move up in the OCC-Central after placing fourth (42, 3-4) behind champion Upper Arlington (81, 7-0) last year.
"The OCC-Central Division should be extremely challenging, as we will face defending state champion Upper Arlington," Iskersky said.