Court prowess won’t surprise Trojan opponents this season

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
Hillsboro tennis coach Kory Unruh is optimistic that this year’s team will be every bit as successful as last year’s, when four Trojans went to state.

The biggest difference is that the Trojans won’t be sneaking up on their opponents this season.

“The potential for success is there,” Unruh said of his team. “We did really well last year, and I think we kind of surprised a lot of people. But now that we’ve done well, we’re not the surprise anymore. We’ve just got to go out an perform. They’ll be ready for us.

“I always stay positive no matter what, but this year I feel pretty confident just for the sake that we had four qualifiers for state last year and three of those are returning.”

Heading the list of returning athletes are three of the Trojans’ state qualifiers from a year ago: senior Brandon Ratzlaff, who placed seventh in singles; senior Tyler Weinbrenner, who competed in singles; and senior Caleb Dirks, who teamed with Adam Driggers in doubles.

“I’m really looking for Brandon to kind of lead the team, to set the pace set for how we want to do it this year,” Unruh said. “He hoped for a higher finish (at state), but it was stiff competition.

“A lot of those above him were seniors and graduated. He’s got a lot of potential. It’s just a matter of whether we can keep his game on and keep him healthy.”

Weinbrenner made it to state a year ago in his first year of high school competition and battled Ratzlaff last season in the regional title match.

“He will definitely be an influence,” Unruh said, but added that whether Weinbrenner will play singles or doubles is yet to be determined.

Dirks, meanwhile, has already demonstrated significant improvement from last year, Unruh said.

“He’s probably played more (during the off season) than anybody other than Brandon,” Unruh said.

Unruh will be getting additional firepower from a fourth senior who comes to the team from a most surprising place-Rumania.

Even though practice has just begun, exchange student Florin Nae has impressed Unruh with his skills.

“We just have to get him adjusted a little bit to playing here,” Unruh said. “He’s used to a lot of ground strokes and not a lot of volleying at all. He’s definitely going to be on the varsity somewhere. He’s a quality player. He’s already given Brandon some good competition.”

Nae’s experience and style of play lends itself to a singles role, Unruh said, which may contribute to Weinbrenner shifting to doubles.

“Florin is definitely stronger as a singles player than a doubles player,” Unruh said. “Doubles is almost unheard of in Europe.”

The four seniors will form a solid core for Hillsboro in a sport that has only six varsity spots.

“Those four for sure will play varsity, but other than Brandon being at No. 1 singles, I don’t have a clue yet for a lineup,” Unruh said.

“It could vary. Last year the lineup was pretty consistent through the season. This year it may not be.”

The other two varsity sports will be filled by underclassmen. Competing for those spots will be junior Wade Kimbrel, sophomores Eric Weinbrenner, Jacob Daniels and Thomas Van Wart, and freshmen Kyle Kroeker, Macy Fadenrecht, Peter Fast and John Vineski.

With a full squad of 12 athletes, Unruh will have a complete six-member junior varsity team. Three to four meets are planned for the JV, and they will also compete as the Trojans second team at some home meets.

Unruh expects Hesston and Wichita Collegiate to be the teams to beat at the Mid-Central Activities League meet, even though both teams lost key athletes to graduation. Smoky Valley is another perennial challenger.

One advantage for Hillsboro is that the league meet will be at the Sports Complex this season. In fact, the Trojans’ last three major meets are all in Hillsboro: the Trojan Invitational, the MCAA meet and also regionals.

“We’ll see this year if there’s any home-court advantage,” Unruh said with a smile.

The Trojans open their season Thursday in Conway Springs.

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