SALT LAKE CITY — As the weather warms and high school tennis season picks up steam, the four defending state champs all head into the season with slightly different expectations.
Lone Peak and Brighton are both expected to repeat, but Lone Peak’s march won’t come as easy as a year ago, while the youthful Bengals are probably even better this year.
In the two smaller classifications neither Orem nor Rowland Hall are the favorites heading into the season, but they’ll try to develop depth throughout the season that puts them in a position to win again in mid-May.
It was type of season every team dreams about — perfection.
Lone Peak swept all five positions at last year’s 6A state tournament to finish with a sparkling 30 team points and a third straight state championship.
Duplicating perfection will be difficult after graduating four contributors from last year’s team, but Lone Peak is still the front-runner in 6A yet again.
“Last year was amazing. That’s the kind of team that doesn’t come around very often. We were really loaded,” said Lone Peak coach Roger Baumgartner.
Lone Peak’s region foes American Fork and Pleasant Grove finished a distant second and third at state last year, and Baumgartner believes that gap will be narrow this season.
“I think our region is really tough, we’re lucky to have American Fork and Pleasant Grove in our region and they’re good friends and good competition. They’re going to be better this year. There’s a lot more parity and it will be an interesting year,” said Baumgartner.
Lone Peak’s top returning player is sophomore TJ Wells, the state champ at third singles last year. He’ll slide into the No. 1 spot with the graduation of Lone Peak’s No. 1 and 2 and he headlines a strong group of players.
Herriman junior Giovanni Claus was a runner-up at first singles last year and he’s a strong player who will push for the title this year. Weber senior Bridger Harrison was a runner-up at second singles last season, losing a third-set tiebreaker to Lone Peak senior Micah Heimuli. He should be just as competitive at first singles for his senior year.
American Fork has multiple talented athletes who will push Lone Peak at region and state.
Ben Roper was a runner-up at first doubles last year, and he could play either singles or doubles this year. Junior Easton McBeth pushed Wells to three sets in the No. 3 singles final last year and will be competitive with anyone whatever position he ends up in.
Cade Condie was a semifinalist at second singles last year and is another talented returning contributor.
Lone Peak’s push for a fourth straight title gets a big boost with the return of senior Logan Wells. The older brother of TJ Wells missed last season with a knee injury, but he’s healthy again and will play second singles for the Knights.
Alex Miller and Josh Weichers were champs at No. 2 doubles last year as sophomores, and they’ll likely anchor down the No. 1 doubles spot this season.
Brighton finished with just one individual champ en route to last year’s state title, but it’s hard to imagine that happening again. Two talented freshmen have strengthened the depth of the team as the Bengals are the clear front-runners to repeat.
“They’re very excited about all of this. We’ve known about these kids coming in for years … and we’ve just kind of been waiting for them. It’s cool because these kids have been coming to our state competition for years, so they have been so excited for Brighton tennis for so long,” said Brighton coach Natalie Meyer.
Freshmen Hardy Owen and Parker Hopkin will likely play No. 2 and 3 singles respectively this year behind junior Redd Owen.
The two-time state champ is ranked 24th nationally and has been climbing the national rankings over the past four years. A third straight individual title is no shoe-in though.
Timpview’s Josh Pearce, who lost to Owen in a competitive final, is back this season, as is Woods Cross sophomore Spencer Johnson, who lost a competitive match to Owen in the semifinals.
Owens’ biggest challenger at first singles could be Skyline’s Connor Robb-Wilcox. He won the 4A first singles title as a freshman, but skipped last year’s state tournament to participate in a national tournament in Oklahoma.
He’s one of the top-ranked tennis players in the intermountain region and his return adds even more depth to the strong position.
Woods Cross, Maple Mountain and Timpview were bunched together in second, third and fourth place last year, and similar parity is likely after Brighton this season.
Maple Mountain is led by Tennyson Whiting, who claimed the second singles state title as a sophomore last year. Teammate Hudson Roney reached the third singles semifinals as a freshman.
Orem dominated all three singles positions last year as it claimed its first boys tennis state title since 1965. Repeating will be extremely difficult.
All three state champs graduated which leaves major voids in the Orem lineup this spring.
“It’s the classic coach's cliché of next man up. We lost a lot of players, but we have a lot of players filling in. We’re still going to be good, we just have to try and control the things we can control and if we do that we’ll see how good we can be,” said Orem coach AJ Young.
Salem Hills finished second at state last year buoyed by its seniors at first and second singles, but like Orem it faces much uncertainty heading into the season.
Without an obvious front-runner, the competition throughout the regular season and state tournament should be very competitive with Park City, Desert Hills, Pine View and Bonneville figuring to be in the mix.
Park City finished third at state last year just behind Salem Hills, and with five state tournament participants back it will be in the thick of the race.
Junior Alex Burkemper was a semifinalist at second singles last year, losing in three sets to Orem’s eventual state champ. Teammate Bautista Mantoni reached the semis as a freshman at third singles, also losing to Orem’s champ.
Quin Dicesaris is also back after contributing to Park City’s first doubles state title.
Bonneville has the most returning experience as seven state tournament participants last year were underclassmen. The Lakers recently finished first at the Duel in the Desert tournament in St. George led by Caden Heaton and Andrew McCall.
Green Canyon senior Ryan Jeppson is the only returning first singles semifinalist from last year as he’ll be in the thick of the competition.
Pine View returns four participants from last year’s state tourney and will be competitive this season, as should region foe Desert Hills. The Thunder don’t return anyone from last year’s tourney team but they always field some of the most competitive doubles teams in the state.
Rowland Hall snapped Waterford’s five-year title run last year by a single point, and the rival schools figure to be the front-runners again in 2019.
The edge, at least on paper, goes to Waterford, which returns six of seven state tournament participants from last year. Rowland Hall returns four.
Leading the way for Waterford is Lansing Jenkins, who edged Rowland Hall senior Leif Thulin 6-4, 7-6 to claim the first singles title. Waterford’s Shilp Shah was runner-up at second singles to a Rowland Hall player who transferred.
Rowland Hall’s top returning player, meanwhile, is defending third singles champ Peter Chase after he edged Waterford’s departing senior Ford Christensen.
Chase will anchor down first singles this year for Rowland Hall, and coach Rich Francey is excited about his potential. Francey is returning as Rowland Hall’s head coach after he previously coached the program from 1990 to 2004.3 comments on this story
“Our teams at Rowland Hall have always been steeped in the tradition of the game. The most important thing for these guys is not to win, it’s to have a good experience during the season. We’ve been blessed to have some good players through the years,” said Francey.
After Chase, Rowland Hall’s other three returns all competed at doubles last year. That includes junior Justin Peng who teamed with graduated Soren Feola to claim the second doubles state title, a win that clinched the Winged Lions the team title.
A year ago Grantsville and Richfield tied for third well behind Rowland Hall and Waterford, but they each return five state tournament participants and that experience should pay dividends throughout the season.