A year after a very competitive boys tennis season — the four state titles were decided by a combined nine points — don’t be surprised if the battle for championships is just as tight again this year.
Of the four classifications, only Juan Diego looks like a potential runaway winner in 2014.
Here’s a class-by-class look at what to expect from the upcoming season:
A year after capturing its first state championship since 2002 and halting Brighton’s bid for a state-record eighth straight title in the process, Viewmont is a team facing uncertainty this spring.
Make no mistake, brothers Sam Tullis and Jacob Tullis are the obvious favorites at first and second singles, respectively, again this year, but the other five players who contributed to Viewmont’s state title all graduated.
“We’re going to have to have other players step up. We do have some. They just don’t have a lot of varsity experience at region or state,” said Viewmont coach Mark Burningham. “But I’m hoping we have some doubles players and a third singles player step up and play well.”
There’s a lot of fluidity right now with Viewmont’s lineup as Burningham tries to find the right combination of players to ultimately maximize as many points as possible at the 5A state tournament next month.
Points will be at a premium at state, with everyone likely gunning for Brighton again after a one-year hiatus. The Bengals finished second in 5A last year, just three points behind Viewmont, and four of the five players who won individual titles last year are back.
“My kids are always hungry for tennis. They play all the time, anywhere they can possibly play,” said Brighton coach Natalie Meyer.
Brighton sophomore Chase Stoner is the defending state champ at third singles, while junior Anthony Punuzio and sophomore Mitchell Mansell combined to win at first doubles. Sophomore Cheyenne Perry was part of the championship team at second doubles.
With the graduation of Brighton’s first and second singles players, who combined to pick up just one point at state, Meyer is toying around with a lot of lineup possibilities this spring. She’d like to have everything sorted out in the next couple of weeks, though, to start building momentum toward state.
“I like to be able to settle it as soon as I can so the kids know, 'This is my spot, this is where I’m playing,'” said Meyer. “You have to look at strategy and you have to let all your kids play off and you have to put them in the proper position according to ability level so nobody’s stacking their teams.”
While state is likely a two-team race between Viewmont and Brighton, Lone Peak and Bingham both should be strong again this year. Lone Peak sophomore Brocton Andrus was a first singles semifinalist a year ago, and big things are expected of him again.
Mountain View surprised many by knocking off perennial 4A favorite Timpview at last year’s state tournament, and the two Utah County schools are the likely favorites again this year.
Mountain View returns individual state champs Jon Dollahite and Manuel Ortiz, and has a clear edge in that department. Timpview, meanwhile, doesn’t return any state champs, and doesn’t even have Matt Pearce back after he graduated early to play at BYU. But the T-Birds are deep at every position.
“Obviously with (Pearce) back that would’ve made us stronger, but we’ll be very competitive again at the state level,” said Timpview coach Rob Sperry.
Timpview has won nine of the past 11 state championships, and it will rely on mostly youngsters to get back on top.
All three singles players will be juniors this year, with Paul Monson competing at first singles and Mason Brockbank at second. Both were 4A semifinalists as sophomores.
Junior Zack Simpson makes the jump from first doubles to third singles after a semifinal appearance a year ago.
A couple of freshman, Scotty Wynn and Travis Wardrop, will anchor one of the doubles teams.
“We’ve got some very good kids, and we’re excited about the kids we’ve got coming back,” said Sperry.
Logan actually finished one point ahead of Timpview in second place last year, buoyed by its first and second doubles teams. Both first doubles kids graduated, but the second doubles team of senior Andrew Hopkins and junior James Larsen returns.
Bonneville and Woods Cross tied for fourth, just four points out of first, last year, and Bonneville should again be a factor at state with five of seven kids back from a year ago.
With all three individual state champs back from a year ago — including juggernauts Brendan Kempin and Ryan Kempin — Juan Diego was already the clear favorite to repeat.
The addition of another Kempin — freshman Connor Kempin — makes it seemingly an inevitability.
Juan Diego beat Desert Hills by four points to win last year’s title after earning just two combined points in doubles. The addition of the third Kempin should help change that. The biggest question is where will the youngest Kempin play.
He’s certainly good enough to compete at third singles, but senior Brenton Reyner is the defending third singles state champ for the Soaring Eagle. At the end of the day, it’s a good problem to have for coach Art Miyasaki.
Regardless of who Juan Diego is playing, which does including a strong nonregion schedule of Viewmont and Mountain View, Miyasaki admires the effort his players give each match.
“When they come out, they don’t look past anyone. Whether or not we play a really strong school or we play a weaker school, these kids come out with the same attitude that they’re going to come out and do their best,” he said.
With Juan Diego likely a notch above everyone else in 3A, the only drama might be for second, but it should be a good one between Desert Hills, Dixie and Snow Canyon.
Dixie returns first singles runner-up Tevan Balian and second singles runner-up Micah Alba, while Desert Hills returns Christian Davis and Preston Parmenter, who helped the Thunder win titles at first doubles and second doubles, respectively, last year.
“We’re looking pretty good. I don’t know if we’re good enough to knock down the juggernaut Juan Diego. They’re monsters this year,” said Desert Hills coach Dow Christensen. “Hopefully we’ll peak at the right time. That’s more important than anything else, what level your confidence is when you go into state. Hopefully we go in a little high and others go in low.”
Rowland Hall and Waterford shared the 2A state championship a year ago, and don’t be surprised if they share it again.
Both terms return an individual state champ and others who were very competitive at state a year ago.
“Our singles players are pretty solid, and our doubles are still formulating and learning how to play with each other,” said Rowland Hall coach Tim Sleeper. “We have a bunch of seniors again this year, and we’re just looking forward to see how they evolve as a team.”
Rowland Hall senior Bryce Baker was a runner-up at first singles last year, and he’ll anchor a strong singles contingent again for the Winged Lion.
Junior Aaron Friedman moves to second singles after taking state at third singles a year ago, while Karim Shaaban moves from doubles to singles after teaming up to win at first doubles.
Waterford returns second singles champ, sophomore Quinn Pritchett, and third singles runner-up, junior Christian Heath.
Freshman Max Gruber was a runner-up at first doubles, and he’ll make the jump to singles.
The biggest question mark for Waterford is the overall void created by the graduation of two-time first singles champ Jay T. Anderson.
“It’s early in the season, so it’s hard to say how big of a hole Jay T.'s loss is going to be. He was our No. 1 for four years and state champion the last two, but I think we’re fairly deep. We’re about as deep as we were last year, we’re just not as strong at the top,” said Waterford coach Ken Wade.
Manti finished a distant third to Rowland Hall and Waterford at state last year, but the Templars return five of seven state participants and could be a big factor as well.