ORIGINALLY WRITTEN BY DON RATZLAFF
Hillsboro High School tennis coach Kory Unruh can hardly keep from smiling as he talks about the upcoming season.
In his fourth year at the helm, Unruh returns his top flour players from a year ago, including two state qualifiers-and all four are only juniors.
“We’ve got a good core, for sure,” he said. “We definitely have our top two with state experience already, so that’s a big benefit. They kind of know already what level they need to get to.”
The two qualifiers are Kyle Kroeker, who made it in singles with a 16-11 record, and Macy Fadenrecht, who qualified in doubles with then-senior Justin Hein. Both Trojan entries went 0-2 in their state debut.
The other two returning juniors are Peter Fast and Robert Jost. For most of last season, Fast teamed with then-senior Luke Lilly in No. 2 doubles and Jost played No. 2 singles.
If there’s a challenge to having four strong players returning, it’s figuring out the best way to use them, according to Unruh.
“I might look more toward the strength of our doubles this year, especially having four come back-it kind of makes sense,” he said. “Putting Kyle and Macy together would be a pretty solid No. 1, and then Robert and Peter as No. 2…that can only help us.
“But I don’t want to completely fall short on singles,” Unruh added. “I am in a dilemma, but I think for Conway, I’ll keep the doubles together to start it.”
“Conway” would be Conway Springs, the defending state champions, who will be hosting the season-opening quadrangular with Hillsboro, South Barber and Circle on Thursday.
The other challenge Unruh faces is filling out a six-player varsity lineup.
“Filling those bottom two roles, that’s the going to be the question,” he said. “But we’ve got some good prospects who are coming along in practice already quite a bit.”
Unruh said four players are in the hunt for those remaining spots:
–Ricky Johnson is a junior, too, but is out for tennis for the first time after playing on the golf team for two years.
“He hustles and he listens, and he’s improved his game a ton already,” Unruh said. “He’s got a chance to step in there.”
–Caleb Barkman, a sophomore, played last year as a freshman.
“He is definitely in the fight,” Unruh said.
–Ben Heyen is only a freshman, but is a strong candidate, too.
“He’s going to be a good little player,” Unruh said. “He hustles well, he’s coming along and kind of holding his own already with some of these guys.”
–Michael Bozworth, the team’s only senior, played junior varsity last season in his first year out for the sport.
“All he got was JV experience, but he may try to push some guys and get in there, too,” Unruh said.
“I think I have four fairly decent players to fill two spots, so that’s always good.”
Rounding out this season’s 11-man roster are freshmen Mark Prieb, Matthew Brown and Dan Bozworth.
“They’re young and they’re going to come around, too,” Unruh said. “We just have to continue to push them.”
Unruh feels he has the talent to compete for a spot in the upper half of an always-tough Mid-Central Activities Association.
“Hesston always has decent doubles, and they’ll have a pretty solid team in our league,” Unruh said. “Smoky Valley is always going to be tough, too, but I think we have more of a chance as a team than we did last year, for sure.
“Collegiate will be strong, of course. The benefit is we don’t see them for state, and that sure helps.”
Though it’s early to look toward the post-season, Unruh is optimistic his top four can make an impact there, too.
“I expect a lot out of these guys this year, and they know that,” he said. “They’ve been working harder, and I think they know the potential is there-not just to do well this year, but to win regionals, possibly, and then actually place among the top few in the state.
“I don’t see a reason why we couldn’t be among the top eight in the state. Anywhere above that is possible, too, if we just put it together.”
After opening their season at Conway Springs, the Trojans travel to Lindsborg on Tuesday for the Smoky Valley Invitational.
Two days later they host the Trojan Invitational, beginning at 3 p.m. at the Sports Complex.
“These kids get thrown in right away,” Unruh said about the busy start to the season. “Last year our records really suffered because of that, but yet they gained a lot and improved a lot. Hopefully, we can at least get some victories that we didn’t get last year, and get a fresher start.”
Hillsboro will host a second home tournament, the Hillsboro Invitational, May 9.