The Jefferson City Jays will have a handful of boys tennis players making their varsity debut in today's home dual against Lebanon at Capital City High School.
"We've got lots of experience, but also lots of inexperience," Jays coach Henry Thompson said, as Jefferson City returns two players with varsity experience from the 2019 season. "It's going to be a combination of the two, and we'll see how it all comes together."
Josh Wilde, one of four seniors for the Jays, returns at No. 1 singles after reaching the 2019 Class 2 singles state tournament, where he posted a 1-2 record. Wilde has already signed to play next season at University of the Ozarks in Arkansas.
"He lost a chance to make it back to the state tournament last spring," Thompson said. "We'll put him in a position where he's able to get back there as a senior."
Thompson said this year's team is looking up to Wilde as a leader.
"They watch him hit in practice and they're in awe of how he's able to hit the ball like he does," Thompson said. "I tell them that's what happens when you work really, really hard."
Jaydep Halder, another senior, will move up to the No. 2 singles spot. His previous varsity experience came in doubles play.
"He's really improved a ton," Thompson said. " He's hitting the ball at a very high level. He's super athletic, super quick, and we have great expectations for him this year."
For today's match, four sophomores will round out the remaining varsity lineup for the Jays: Aarush Deshpande at No. 3, Riley Cooper at No. 4, Bill Wood at No. 5 and Sam Ramelb at No. 6.
"Obviously, there could be some fluidity as we go through the season," Thompson said.
Deshpande would have held one of the top JV spots last season.
"Last year, we only had two-and-a-half weeks of practice, but I thought of all our newcomers last year, Aarush had the most potential," Thompson said. "He has all the fundamentals, he just has to get that match experience."
The same goes for the remaining three sophomores on varsity.
"We have a lot of the kids in the same boat," Thompson said. "They have a solid fundamental background, but until they get through that match experience, that's really how you learn to handle different situations."
Thompson said Cooper and Wood are very coachable, while Ramelb is a newcomer who putting in the work to improve.
Senior Aidan Foster will also be in the mix for a varsity spot.
"He brings some power," Thompson said.
Senior Koby Sands, junior Keith Stennis and sophomore Blake Roettgen could work their way up as the season progresses, perhaps even in doubles play.
"It just depends how these first couple weeks of matches go," Thompson said. "We have a multitude of players that could continue to move up and change positions as we have more practices and challenge matches."
Jefferson City is already familiar with its Central Missouri Activities Conference foes, playing in duals against four of them in 2019.
"We see those teams already, now it gives us extra motivation in those matches," Thompson said.
The Jays will play in the Springfield Invitational on April 14 and the Sedalia Smith-Cotton Invitational on April 23.
"It will be a practice run for individual districts," Thompson said.