Freshmen have been talented enough to make the Westerville Central High School girls tennis team throughout the past decade, but they've taken it to another level this year.
For the first time in coach Donovon Barrett's nine-year tenure, two freshmen catapulted to the top of the Warhawks' lineup. Barrett said Nicole Cardwell and Alexandria Shaw would hold the top two singles spots in the opener Aug. 13 at Village Academy.
"We've had freshmen before, but the situation was always that we also had a returning No. 1 singles player," Barrett said. "We graduated Hannah Thorp (in 2013), so the door opened. (Cardwell and Shaw) are both very good athletes, they're serious and competitive, and they definitely earned their spots."
Barrett said seniors Autumn Ramsey and Gina Scarborough, who lead a six-member senior class, will contend for spots at third singles and in doubles.
The rest of the team consists of seniors Gracie Albany, Leah Green, Mackenzie Moushey and Tricia Tighe and juniors Baily Bond, Becca Haller, Meghann Kasson, Mackenzie Less, Melanie Peters and Meshora Suthanthira. Albany, Bond and Peters also should contend for doubles berths.
Moushey went 1-1 in doubles in a Division I sectional tournament a year ago with 2013 graduate Martha Borsukevich.
"Every other spot is up for grabs," Barrett said. "A lot of the girls are at right about the same talent level, and they have a great attitude about getting better. They're coachable and receptive, and that's what you want to see."
Central was 7-9 overall and 1-6 with 17 points in the OCC-Cardinal Division last year, behind champion Dublin Jerome (72 points, 7-0). The Warhawks begin league play Tuesday, Aug. 20, at Dublin Scioto.
Final league standings will be decided differently this year.
Unlike in the past when duals and the league tournament were combined to determine which team scored the most league points, this year's OCC-Cardinal title will be earned by the team with the best dual record. The first-place teams in each OCC division will play each other Sept. 21 at a site to be announced to determine the overall league champion.
Second-place teams from each division also will play each other, and so on.
Thompson expected to pace Wildcats
Seven seniors, including first-singles player Tara Thompson, return for a South team that won three matches last year.
Beyond Thompson, who was 1-1 in a Division I sectional tournament last year, second-year coach Ryan French said his team's talent level made for competitive tryouts.
"(Players) two to seven are pretty even," said French, whose team was 3-10 overall and 1-6 (13 points) in the OCC-Cardinal a year ago. "There are some gaps (in talent), but not a ton of disparity. We're definitely older than last year, and I'm thinking it will be a better year. We play in a tough league, and I hope that makes us better."
The rest of the roster consists of returnees Aleah Carey, Lexi Hunkler and Kristen Rudge, and McKenna Davis, Demy Sobellah and Carissa Tedeschi, all seniors. Hunkler teamed with 2013 graduate Ama Kwarteng to go 1-1 at sectional last year.
French said several underclassmen also have the chance to contribute on varsity.
South opened Aug. 13 at home against Watkins Memorial. The Wildcats' league opener is Tuesday, Aug. 20, at home against new OCC-Cardinal member Canal Winchester, which replaced Worthington Kilbourne when it left for the OCC-Capital.
Warriors hope to build on three-win season
Senior Miranda Goddard and juniors Macy Chapman and Alexa Reiniger are expected to boost North, which went 3-7 overall and 2-5 (10 points) in the OCC-Cardinal last year.
No Warriors advanced past the second round of a Division I sectional tournament at Pickerington Central. Callie Nelson, Negina Wright and the doubles team of Abby Englehart and Goddard went 1-1. Nelson and Wright were 2013 graduates, as were varsity players Ruth Payne and Sheryl Sommers.
North is coached by C.J. Simmons, who is in his second season with the girls and also has coached the boys team for four years.