The Jefferson City Jays may be young this season, but that doesn't mean they'll be inexperienced.
"We have lots of new faces this year, and so a lot of our time so far has been spent on challenge matches and getting our rank order established," Jays coach Henry Thompson said, as Jefferson City opens the boys tennis season at 4 p.m. today against Waynesville at Washington Park. "But it's always a good thing to have new faces in the mix, to challenge the returners."
The Jays open the season with with four underclassmen among their starting six players on varsity.
"If you come in with the same kids you had the year before, there might be some complacency there," Thompson said. "This year, more than any year, we've had great competition for spots."
Experience will claim the No. 1 spot in singles with senior Karsten McMillan, who started his high school career just outside the top six and was the Jays' No. 2 player the past two seasons.
"That's something that he's worked very hard for, and I know he's ready to go," Thompson said. "Last year, he was one of our more consistent performers."
Josh Wilde is one of two freshmen on varsity this season for the Jays. Thompson said he has been keeping an eye on Wilde and wondered if the day would come when he finally became a freshman.
"He's played lots of USTA tournaments in his life, and that's going to help him," Thompson said. " I've got no doubt that he's going to have a great year for us."
Atul Krishnadas, a sophomore, joins McMillan as a varsity returner. Thompson said Krishnadas gained a lot of experience last season at the No. 5 spot.
"He showed some flashes of greatness in some tournaments that we were in, beating some high-caliber players," Thompson said. "That experience, more than anything, is going to help him this year."
Senior Tanner Haugen will fill the No. 4 spot after climbing from JV to varsity midway through last season. Haugen will play both soccer and tennis next year at Webster University.
"Where he is in the lineup, that can help him win a lot of matches," Thompson said. "He's going to battle and grind and figure out ways to win."
Sophomore Alec Krumm and freshman Tarun Bathini will round out the varsity at Nos. 5 and 6, respectively. Krumm played on the Jays' JV team last year and had some experience playing in varsity tournaments, while Thompson said the only thing Bathini is lacking right now is experience.
Thompson said junior Andrew Gray and senior Nick Ryan could also see varsity action this season.
While the singles lineup may be ready to go, Thompson said he wasn't sure how the Jays' doubles pairings would look heading into today's opener.
"We've got to make some initial doubles decisions, as far as who is playing with whom," Thompson said. "We'll try a lot of different things throughout the year."
The Jays play three straight road matches at Springfield, followed by the Springfield Invitational, in a five-day span next month. Jefferson City also plays tournaments at Ladue and Edwardsville, Ill., before hosting two-time defending state champion Rock Bridge and then wrapping up the regular season at Helias.
Thompson said everything on the schedule is to prepare the Jays for the district tournament and a potential rematch against perennial powerhouse Rock Bridge.
"That's one of the things I changed when I got here, and we're going to continue to do it because ultimately, we want to challenge for a district title, and that's the only way to do it, to help improve your kids throughout the year," he said.