Even with five players back from the best season in Canal Winchester High School girls tennis history, coach Jill Welsh anticipated not knowing the exact lineup for the Thursday, Aug. 16, season opener at home against Westland until maybe a day or two beforehand.

"We have a lot of veterans. The three singles players are veterans, but the doubles teams will probably be brand new," said Welsh, who is in her fourth season. "It was a wait-and-see thing. I figured we'd have some challenge matches. We have that much talent and the girls are competitive with each other.

"That top five being so competitive is why it's so hard to see how the lineup might go. But as a coach, that's what you want to see. I don't mind at all."

Senior Callie Tate and sophomore Erin Duckworth had locked up the first and second singles spots, respectively, entering the week. Beyond them, seniors Courtney Cowgill and Makayla Neely and junior Ellie Stedman expected to compete for third singles and first doubles.

Welsh did not discount that sophomore Layla Fox and freshman Amayah Gentry would compete somewhere in the top seven.

The Indians finished 13-4 overall last year, setting the program record for wins, but did not advance any players to the Division I district tournament or win a match at sectional.

Canal Winchester's only losses to graduation were Elizabeth and Sara Welsh, the coach's twin daughters. Sara Welsh now plays at Muskingum University, and Elizabeth plans to play club tennis while attending Ashland.

Rounding out the roster are senior Lydia Angel and freshmen Gabby Barringer, Kennedy Tackett and Grace Terflinger.

Canal Winchester begins OCC-Capital Division play Aug. 23 at Big Walnut. The Indians went 3-2 in the league last year to finish third behind New Albany (5-0) and Big Walnut (4-1).

However the season goes, coach Welsh anticipates it progressing at a quicker pace than in the past given that Canal Winchester now has six courts, double its previous number. The Indians have 10 home matches scheduled, including five in a row from Sept. 5-13.

"We've been playing with three courts since tennis started here several years ago," Welsh said. "Having only three courts made for some long matches and now we have six pretty much brand-new courts. We're very fortunate to have administration that believes in us and an athletics director (Pat Durbin) who believes in our program. He's doing a tremendous job, and I think this is something that will help make us a better program. I believe if we play to our abilities, we can be one of the better programs in central Ohio."

Cox, Eggleston, Mays leading boys golfers

The boys golf team shot 385 and 382 in its first two tournaments of the season, scores that first-year coach Rick Maharry is confident can decrease quickly.

"We're still struggling a bit getting going, although we played two tough courses," Maharry said of the season-opening Pickerington Central Invitational on Aug. 6 at Turnberry and the first round of the four-round OCC-Capital tournament Aug. 7 at Denison Golf Club. "Turnberry is tight and the greens were playing quick, and Denison was the same way. The guys had some good holes, but our putting has been off a bit. It will come along. Our chipping will, too.

"I'm a firm believer in statistics, and so many strokes during a round come from chipping and putting. That's the easiest place to cut (strokes), and that's where we'll be putting in a lot of work."

Seniors Jake Eggleston and Trevor Mays and sophomore Noah Cox comprise the top three for Canal Winchester, which finished 16th of 19 teams in the Pickerington Central Invitational behind champion Dublin Jerome B (308) and third (382) in the first round of the OCC-Capital behind New Albany (323) and Big Walnut (341) and ahead of Newark (397).

Franklin Heights and Groveport did not record team scores in the opening round of league play.

Eggleston shot a 91 on Aug. 7, followed by Mays (94), Cox (95) and juniors Joshua Fair (101) and Vincent Vatri (108).

Rounding out the roster are juniors Drew Grilli and Alex Mobley.

The Indians went 12-8 in the OCC-Capital tournament last year to finish third behind champion New Albany (20-0).

Maharry, a Florida native who teaches online classes for at-risk students at the high school and was the junior varsity girls golf coach the past four years, succeeds Kevin Barhorst. Barhorst coached the team for three seasons.

The second round of the league tournament was Aug. 13 at Darby Creek. After that, the Indians do not have another match until Aug. 28 when they take on Bloom-Carroll at Pine Hill.

"We'll have a little break that will let us get out onto the (driving) range, get some work in and fine-tune some things," Maharry said. "The key for us will be consistency. I don't know that we'll finish at the top of the OCC(-Capital), but we can be in the top half."

Top two back for girls golf team

The girls golf team's top two players to end last season, seniors Rachel Hatley and Abby Vaughan, picked up right where they left off to begin this year.

Hatley shot an 82 and Vaughan a 98 in the first round of the four-round OCC-Central tournament Aug. 8 at Royal American, as Canal Winchester placed sixth (406) behind New Albany (301), Upper Arlington (322), Dublin Coffman (329), Hilliard Davidson (390) and Marysville (403).

Junior Erin Booher shot a 102 and junior MiKayla Hagan added a 124.

"I can see Rachel shooting in the 70s this year. She's playing well right now, but not as well as she wants to play," 12th-year coach Greg Hippler said. "Royal American is a pretty unforgiving course. Abby is playing well, and she is pretty confident she can make it down into the 80s. Erin is shooting as well now as she did at the end of last year. That's promising."

The Indians began their season Aug. 6 by finishing ninth (407) of 10 teams in the Lady Lion Invitational at Jefferson Country Club behind champion New Albany (295).

Rounding out the roster are junior Amanda Gleadle and sophomore Phoebe Micich. Gleadle is in her first season on varsity, and this is Micich's first year in the sport.

The second round of the league tournament was Aug. 15 at Cooks Creek, which will play host to the district tournament for the second consecutive year on Oct. 9.

Hippler briefly considered retiring after last season, citing the time commitment on top of his full-time job as a real estate agent, but opted to return after talking with some of his golfers.

"I really enjoy being around this team and working one-on-one with the girls," Hippler said. "We have a lot of new faces on the roster and really a lot of new faces among coaches in this league, but it's fun. This year, we have a fair amount of experience at the top and at the bottom of the lineup, little to no experience. We'll see how everything plays out."

dpurpura@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekDave