Craig tennis lineup gets a new look after successful season
The young Cougars started the Big Eight Conference season Tuesday with a number of players that moved up one or two spots from a year ago in the varsity lineup.
Coach Camilla Owen hopes the 2008 team can improve upon the success of last year where the Cougars finished fourth in the Big Eight Conference dual meet standings (5-3 overall) and an impressive third in the conference tournament. Craig began the conference dual meet season Tuesday with a 7-0 win over Sun Prairie.
“It’s a great group of girls who are young and inexperienced but have a lot of fight in them,” Owen said. “Our practices have been pretty intense because we’ve kind of mixed the varsity and junior varsity together in order to really work on skills.
“A couple of girls are really making a big jump in the lineup, and that often times is difficult to do. There may be some ups and downs until they get familiar with stepping up that much in competition, but that’s what we had to do to give us the best possible lineup.”
Niki Westenberger has the biggest shoes to fill. The junior not only has to move from the No. 4 singles position where she played a year ago to No. 1 this season, but she’s replacing foreign-exchange student Barbara Ochotnicka. The Slovakian resident advanced to the WIAA Division 1 state semifinals a year ago.
“Niki’s in a funny spot because you don’t normally see a player make that big of a move up from one season to the next,” Owen said. “”But she’s played pretty well thus far and is looking at the move as a way to really challenge herself.”
Nicole Gutzman is right behind Westenberger at No. 2 singles. The senior sat out last season after undergoing ACL surgery on her knee, but looks stronger than ever, according to her coach.
“Nicole has looked good so far and I think she’s really determined to have a strong senior season,” Owen said. “I’m really amazed at how well she’s come back from the injury. That can be a devastating injury in our sport because of the all the quick movement there is on the court.”
Senior Nicole Timblin, who is beginning her fourth year on varsity, is the starter at No. 3 singles. Sophomore Kelly Collins won the last varsity spot in singles and will be at No. 4.
“There’s a pretty good battle going on in singles,” Owen said. “Senior Alyssa Gagg and freshman Sara Gray are also going to play some varsity matches for us.
“It’s good to have girls pushing each other for varsity spots. That’s why our practices have been pretty spirited and productive.”
The Cougars have depth and experience returning in doubles. The No. 1 team of sophomore Taylor Storbakken and junior Hailey Smith went 17-3 a year ago at No. 3 doubles.
“Again, it’s a big move up from No. 3 to No. 1,” Owen said. “You know you’re going to be playing the other team’s best every match.
“Those two are very familiar with each other on the court as far as where they’re going to at all times, and I think that will help make the move to No. 1 a little easier.”
Juniors Olivia Ehlers and Emily Reshower are beginning their third year of varsity and will play No. 2 doubles. Owen thinks those two will play with a lot more consistency this season and could be headed for a breakout year.
Sophomore Maggie Bolton and junior Lauden Rezai are the starters at No. 3 doubles, with senior Colleen Ziegler and sophomore Emma Bitter also expected to see varsity playing time in doubles.
Owen tabs Madison West as the conference favorite, but says defending champion Madison East, along with Middleton, could contend.
(All home matches at Palmer Park)
AUGUST: 28—Beloit Memorial, 4 p.m.; 30—Craig Invitational, 8 a.m.
SEPTEMBER: 2—At Madison La Follette, 4 p.m.; 4—At Madison Memorial, 4 p.m.; 6—At Wauwatosa East Invitational, 9 a.m.; 9—At Middleton, 4 p.m.; 11—Janesville Parker, 4 p.m.; 16—At Madison East, 4 p.m.; 18—Madison West, 4 p.m.; 23—At Verona, 4 p.m.