DuBOIS — One might think a team coming off a one-win season wouldn’t have reason for excitement and optimism, but that’s the farthest thing from the truth with the DuBois Central Catholic boys tennis program.
That’s because veteran coach Andy Rice’s 2016 version of the Cardinals will feature a nice blend of veterans and newcomers to the sport.
Rice returns five players from last year’s squad, led by the senior duo Alex Micknis and Markus Peterson, both of whom were quarterfinalists in the D-9 Class AA singles tournament and doubles tournament as a team a season ago.
Fellow seniors Kiki Blakley and Michael Zaffuto have played since they were freshmen, while another pair of seniors — Liam Barnett and John Prebe — also return. Barnett saw action in singles, while Prebe played some doubles.
Beyond that group of returnees, Rice has seven players who will be on the court for the first time at the high school level.
That mix of players could benefit DCC this season given the new format District 9 has adopted. The district is going from a five singles, four doubles format, to four singles and three doubles this year.
“We’ve had some great practices so far. The returning players have all improved and have helped the beginners,” said Rice. “I’m very excited about this season, especially after winning just one match last year.
“We lost a lot of close matches last year, and I expect to see us come out on top in those close matches this year. There are a lot of good teams in the district this year, but I think if we play to our potential we can compete with anyone.”
Peterson and Micknis look to lead the singles lineup at Nos. 1 and 2, followed by Blakley at No. 3 and Barnett at No. 4.
“We are strong at the top, with District 9 quarterfinalists Alex Micknis and Markus Peterson returning,” said Rice. “They have worked very hard and have lots of singles and doubles experience going all the way back to their freshmen year. Alex and Markus are great team leaders, and I’m excited to watched them succeed this year.
“Alex and Markus also have a lot of experience playing doubles together. They played first doubles last year and will be right back in that spot this year. Their style complements each other very well, and they play well together as a team.
“Kiki (Blakley) has come a long way. She has excellent form and just has to get over the mental block of playing against boys. She hits as hard as anyone on the team, and once she gets more confident in her game she will win more matches. Liam (Barnett) is a good athlete and he’s very competitive. He’s hitting the ball better this year, and I expect him to do well at fourth singles.”
With Peterson and Micknis at No. 2 doubles, Barnett looks to be one half of the No. 2 team, where Blakely, Zaffuto, Prebe and senior newcomer Cullen Engle are battling to join him.
The same cast of characters could see time at third doubles, along with another senior newcomer in Joey Varischetti.
The remainder of DCC’s roster is made of underclassmen — all of whom are girls.
“Freshman Mackenzie Manning and sophomore Brenna Engle have been working very hard at practice and have shown great improvement in just two weeks of practice,” said Rice. “Tori Barber, Keri Hollenbaugh, Mackenzie Park, and Quinn Kulling have also shown progress.
Central Catholic is set to open its season today at home against Punxsutawney.
Seniors: Liam Barnett, Kiki Blakley, Cullen Engle, Alex Micknis, Markus Peterson, Jon Prebe, Joey Varischetti, Michael Zaffuto. Sophomores: Tori Barber, Brenna Engle, Keri Hollenbaugh. Freshmen: Quinn Kulling, Mackenzie Manning, Mackenzie Park.