With players ranging from ninth to 12th grades shuffling on and off the courts to take their best shot at making varsity, the tryouts for the Upper Arlington High School girls tennis team had a tournament-like feel.
"That's how we do it," coach Shaun Stamps said with a smile.
Entering the season opener Friday, Aug. 16, at home against Shaker Heights Hathaway Brown, Stamps doesn't have many other certainties. Senior Beniva Ganther, junior Audrey Berger and sophomore Olivia Kompa return to lead the Golden Bears in their quest for a 25th consecutive league championship and more, but multiple freshmen had chances to break into the top seven for the first time in Stamps' 10 seasons leading the program.
"They're big hitters. They're not timid," Stamps said of a freshman group that includes Kyra Jung and Anna Reynolds. "We haven't had a group larger than this as far as who has a chance to make the (varsity) A team. Rarely do we have three or four who have a chance right off the bat. Losing six (players to graduation), you say to yourself, 'We're going to struggle next season.' But I'm happy with where we are right now."
Berger likely will play first singles. She sustained a broken ankle in November that cut about two months out of her offseason, but in retrospect the injury allowed her to refocus on the second half of her high school career.
"I took a break from tennis. I wasn't sure where I wanted to go with it," Berger said. "I was in a rut and didn't know what to do. It was my mental game that needed a lot of work, and that's why being a (co-)captain (along with Ganther) I want to emphasize having a good attitude and a positive outlook. That's the strongest point of tennis."
Stamps said Kompa and Ganther also have made substantial strides since the end of last season, with one being more aggressive and the other dialing that back.
"Olivia wasn't a true defensive style last year, but she got everything back with no aggressive play. But now she takes her shots, takes her chances," Stamps said. "Beniva was always a power player, but she's worked more on her volleys and that's what we need. We need consistent play across the board."
UA had six players advanced from its home Division I sectional tournament last year to district, but for the first time since 1992, it did not have any state qualifiers. The doubles teams of Berger and 2013 graduate Elaine Cloern and Ganther and 2013 graduate Andi Smart both fell a win shy of advancing.
Kompa and 2013 graduate Emma Klebe each lost in the first round at district in singles.
UA finished 15-2 overall and 7-0 in the OCC-Central Division last year, earning 80 of a possible 82 points in league play.
The Bears have a chance to call themselves the overall OCC champion this fall. Unlike in the past when points gained in league dual matches and the league tournament were combined to determine the league champion, the OCC-Central title will be decided solely by dual records this season.
The champions of the four OCC divisions will compete in a tournament Sept. 21 for the overall OCC team title, with the second-place teams in each league, the third-place teams, etc., competing in separate tournaments.
Ganther said the chance to start fast and earn another league championship is providing more motivation than failing to have any state qualifiers a year ago.
"So many players left us," she said. "We worked our butts off and fell a little short, but through no fault of ours. There are no hurt feelings over that. But this year, I'm not thinking much about it. Let's play our best and see what happens."