“Well, we are usually one of the top teams along with North Stokes and Bishop McGuinness,” Kniskern said. “Each of them lost a little bit more than we did to graduation, so I think a lot will depend on the new players coming in and how well they adjust.”
Mount Airy returns four of its top six players from last year, including projected No. 1 player Jordan Jackson.
Jackson, a sophomore, lost in the state semifinals last year and is poised for bigger and better things this season.
“I expect an even bigger year for her this year,” Kniskern said. “She’s got a bright future and will be a force for a few more years.”
Kniskern is wary of losing his top doubles team of Ellie Case and Jordan Gwynn.
The two played together all four years they were on the team and were the 1-A state runner-up last year.
“It will be hard to replace their experience and leadership,” Kniskern said. “But it is an opportunity for some others to step up.”
Mount Airy won the conference with a 15-1 record and finished 18-2 overall, with losses coming to North Stokes and East Montgomery in the Western Regional final.
Other players expected to compete for the top six spots in the playing rotation are junior Mary Kessler, sophomore Elizabeth Dinkins, freshman Davi Barbour, and seniors Alex Rigby and Samantha Donathan, who did not play on the team last year but was the No. 4 singles player in 2008.
“We might not be as strong as we were last year, but we’re still pretty talented,” Kniskern said. “I’m just trying to piece it together and see what we’ve got out there. I won’t finalize anything with seedings until I see them play against each other and see what they show me.”
A familiar face at East Surry but an unfamiliar face to the tennis team takes over this season.
Wendy Williams, a long-time coach for the basketball and volleyball teams, decided to try her hand on the outdoor hardcourts for a change.
“I’m not heading into it with any preconceived notions,” Williams said. “All I want to do is see us improve each practice an every match. If I see that by the end of the season, that’s what I’ll call success.”
Williams feels that three seniors will help the team overcome the loss of Megan Shelton, last year’s 1-A state champion.
Sarah Thompson, Chloe Imus, and Megan Holt will be counted on to provide crucial leadership roles.
“I think overall, we’re pretty young,” Williams said. “We’ve got our work cut out for us but I think we’ll be up for the challenge. I know Mount Airy should be really strong, but I think we’ll be able to compete with everybody. It should be a lot of fun and I’m looking forward to it.”
Dustin Webb is taking over the program at North Surry from long-time coach Rodney Pell.
Webb just recently was informed of the decision to replace Pell and hasn’t had much time to assess his players.
“From what little I do know right now, we’ve got some potential and plenty to work with,” Webb said. “I know it will be an adjustment for them, but so far it seems to be a smooth transition.”
Seniors Abigail Brannock and Katie Smith should compete for spots in the top-six, and Webb is excited about freshman Sarah Glasco and sophomore Keighly Dalton.
“So much is still up in the air with our seedings,” Webb said. “Not really sure where anything will fall with singles or doubles right now, but they girls are working hard to help me find that out.”
Webb coached tennis at Surry Central from 2004-06 and won one conference championship before heading to North to coach soccer.
He won’t be stalking the sidelines in Toast any more, however.
“I think coaching tennis is a better fit for me.” Webb said. “With the scheduling, I just couldn’t have done both. I’m happy for the opportunity and I hope to start a system here that will enable us to be more competitive. We’ll start with the small steps and be realistic with everything, but I think we’ll get it together.”
Mark Parsons is taking over the team at Surry Central and isn’t bashful about his team’s prospects.
“We want to win the conference,” Parsons said. “If we step onto the court, we have to have high expectations of ourselves. If we don’t have high expectations, we might as well just stay in the house.”
Parsons thinks that Taylor Case will likely draw the No. 1 singles spot, and after that, it’s wide open.
“We’ve got a pretty solid group of veterans and some talented newcomers to the team, which I think is the perfect mix,” he said.
“We’ve always had a pretty solid program, and there is no reason to believe we won’t be solid again.”
Parsons feels like Mount Airy, McGuinness, and North Stokes will all be in the title hunt.
“But we’re excited to compete against them,” he said. “We’re right there with them. I feel really good about this team and our chances to win the conference this year.”