Veteran Columbus North boys tennis coach Kendal Hammel enters the 2015 season in an unfamiliar position.
Unlike most years, when he knows who will be playing in his varsity lineup, this year’s crop of players hasn’t produced a whole lot of separation among themselves. Hammel said he hopes this week’s challenge matches will help sort things out.
“A lot of years, we go in and we pretty much know before the season or within the first couple of days who our top seven or eight players are, but this year is different,” Hammel said. “We have four or five guys who from our challenge matches are probably going to play. But after that, I have six to eight guys that are probably going to be battling all year for varsity spots.”
The Bull Dogs lost four players from a team that went 20-4 and won its second consecutive regional championship, including individual state qualifier Anthony Sanders.
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Kevin Luo, who played No. 3 singles, is back for his fourth year of varsity. Also returning are junior Nathan VanDeventer and senior Daniel Larken, who played No. 2 doubles last season.
North also will receive a big boost from the return of senior Aditya Mantri, who was a varsity player as a sophomore before missing last season after having wrist surgery, and the addition of junior Ammar Khaled, a transfer from Columbus East.
“We’ll be a good team,” Hammel said. “We’re not going to be as strong possibly as we were in past years. We’re not going to be as strong at the top. We lost four good guys, but the kids that were on JV have really worked hard and have competed really well. We’re going to have good depth.”
That depth includes senior Matt Klave; juniors Anay Gangal, Lucas Huang and Walker Thomas; sophomore Dan Mathew and freshman Kevin Lin.
“It’s wide open right now,” Hammel said. “Whoever I put from that second group of people are going to have to step up and do their job. It’s just getting them that match experience at the varsity level and seeing what they can do.”
While winning another regional title remains a goal for North, Hammel knows getting past an experienced East squad in the sectional won’t be easy.
“We’re going to have to get past East first this year,” Hammel said. “There’s no doubt about that. East is going to be very strong at the top. They have some good strong players, but they don’t have the depth. It’s kind of the opposite of us.”
The 2015 Columbus North boys tennis schedule:
Aug. 21;at Jeffersonville Tournament;6:30 p.m.
Aug. 22;at Jeffersonville Tournament;10 a.m.
Aug. 24;at Plainfield;5 p.m.
Aug. 26;at Floyd Central;6 p.m.
Aug. 27;Southport;5:30 p.m.
Sept. 2;Columbus East;4 p.m.
Sept. 3;at Perry Meridian;5:30 p.m.
Sept. 5;Center Grove;9 a.m.
Sept. 10;at Franklin Central;5:30 p.m.
Sept. 11;Terre Haute South at Bloomington North;6 p.m.
Sept. 12;North Invitational;9 a.m.
Sept. 15;Bloomington South;5:30 p.m.
Sept. 19;Conference Indiana at Bloomington South;10 a.m.
Sept. 22;at Greenwood;5 p.m.
Sept. 24;Bloomington North;5:30 p.m.
Sept. 26;at Silver Creek;10 a.m.
Sept. 28;at Roncalli;5 p.m.