The Thomas Worthington High School girls tennis team is under new leadership this season, but first-year coach David Albert is no stranger to the school or the program.
Albert, who coaches the Thomas boys tennis team in the spring, was an assistant for former coach Jill Fergus last season when the Cardinals finished 6-7 overall and placed fifth in the OCC-Central Division.
Senior Monica Chang returns to lead the Cardinals, who opened Aug. 13 against Bexley and begin league play Tuesday, Aug. 20, at home against Upper Arlington.
"(Chang) is extremely consistent and seems to know how to win," Albert said. "She has played No. 1 (singles) since her freshman year, but we have many girls that can compete with her. Our team is very deep and has a lot of potential to surprise teams this year."
Chang is one of five returnees who competed for the Cardinals in the Division I sectional last year at UA. The others are senior Kathy Zhang, juniors Elizabeth Chiu and Molly Maxwell and sophomore Mariella Birones.
Chang and Zhang competed in singles, with Zhang going 1-1 and Chang losing in the first round. In doubles, Chiu and Birones lost in a district-qualifying match, as did Maxwell and 2013 graduate Achinthya Sivalingam.
"I feel we could have many district qualifiers this year," Albert said. "I hope the team will have a winning record and have two or three district qualifiers."
Albert said a number of his players are capable of playing singles, which gives him flexibility with the lineup.
"Elizabeth Chiu and Mariella Birones can play any position," he said. "They are talented from the baseline and know how to attack the ball at the net. They are complete players and are very coachable."
Others vying for playing time are senior Nimi Gupta, junior Katelyn Howard and freshmen Anastasia Toth and Claudia Piper.
"There are a lot of potential doubles combinations," Albert said. "Maxwell and Howard, Toth and Piper, and Gupta and Howard would make a great team as well. I think we have two strong freshmen in Toth and Piper that add a lot of talent to our team.
"The key to success is having the right attitude and believing in the team. I try to find the right matchups against certain teams. In the end, it comes down to winning three courts. I know my team will be prepared."
Chen expected to lead way for Wolves
Three starters are back for Kilbourne, which has moved to the OCC-Capital after being in the OCC-Cardinal last year.
The returnees are junior Elizabeth Borchers and sophomores Erica Chen and Anna Zellar.
Chen reached a district-qualifying match in singles before losing in the Division I sectional at Reynoldsburg and Borchers and Zellar went 1-1 in doubles.
"Chen is a smart and experienced player for a sophomore," coach Ken Berlin said. "Her offseason work and tournament play will benefit her during the season. She is moving up to first singles. After her, we're still not sure about the lineup."
Last season, Chen made third-team all-league at second singles and Borchers and Zellar were third-team all-league at second doubles, but Berlin is considering having Borchers and Zellar play singles at times.
"(Borchers and Zellar) have very good chemistry (and) that is key in doubles," Berlin said. "They have worked hard to improve their all-around game, which will help if needed in singles as well."
Also competing for playing time are seniors Marissa Lazaroff and Blaire Morrison, junior Vesh Dasaka, sophomore Maddie Freitag and freshman Hannah Kerns.
Kilbourne, which finished 7-6 overall and placed third in the OCC-Central last season, opens Tuesday, Aug. 20, at Delaware in a league match.
New Albany (82 points, 7-0) won the OCC-Capital title last year, finishing ahead of Olentangy (62, 6-1), Olentangy Orange (55, 5-2), Big Walnut (44, 4-3), Delaware (36, 3-4), Watkins Memorial (18, 2-5), Mount Vernon (14, 1-6) and Franklin Heights (2, 0-7). Watkins Memorial is no longer in the league.
"The only goal I have for this team is to show continuous growth and improvement throughout the season," Berlin said. "We want to support each other. I am hoping for a repeat or better in the sectional from our three returnees."