Hilltoppers again expect to contend for tennis title

Douglas Fritz • Mar 30, 2012 at 11:38 PM

Science Hill’s boys are off to a fast start, and the girls are right in the mix.

Once again, it’s a strong tennis season on The Hill.

Led by individual state title threat Michael Chen, the boys have won all four of their matches.

“The way it looks we’ve got a really good shot of winning the conference,” said head coach Pete Zannis.

And that’s saying quite a bit for a league that produced state champions in 2007-09 (Science Hill) and last year (Tennessee High).

How far the Hilltoppers go this year will depend on their ability to adjust, said Zannis.

“We need to be able to change our game when that is what it takes to win a match,” said Zannis. “If somebody needs to play inside-out and they can’t do it well, they will lose because that was the strategy that was needed to win that match.”

It helps to have a No. 1 like Chen, who reached the state championship match in 2011.

“He’s the leader of the team, and he’s up there with guys like Chris Smith and Matt Czuchry, who won state titles for us,” said Zannis. “The guy he lost to in the finals last year, he had beaten two months before the state. Mike has a chance to win the state this year.

“He’s got tremendously hard ground strokes, one of the best ground strokes in the state and the south.”

Complementing Chen are Ryan Becker (No. 2, Jr.), Ryland Byrd (No. 3, So.), Colin Ice (No. 4, So.) and Adam Becker (No. 5, So.).

“Ryan has improved his ground strokes since last year,” said Zannis. “He’s got to learn transition and shot selection.

“Byrd is very much improved, and he’s good at the volley. He’s got all the tools and he’s learning how to put it together.”

As for Ice, he’s new to the lineup because a broken ankle sidelined him. He suffered the injury during a December skiing accident, and just returned to the lineup Thursday.

Adam Becker is a solid No. 5, said Zannis.

“He’s very solid off the ground, but needs more flexibility,” he said.

Battling for the No. 6 spot are junior Landon Martin and freshmen Thomas Young and Cameron Martin. Zannis said Landon needs to work more off the ground and utilize his net and volley game. Young’s strength is his serve while Cameron has good movement, said Zannis.

Rounding out the boys lineup are sophomores Mason Sizemore and Colin Whitfield along with junior Zach Botts.

As for the girls, they were tripped up by Dobyns-Bennett in a very tight match. It was 4-4 overall and the Lady Hilltoppers were up 6-4 in the pro set of the deciding doubles match before losing their grip on the lead.

However, injuries have been a key factor for the girls, who won the state title in 2009 but have been beaten in the state semifinals in each of the last two years.

Katie Deal (No. 2, Jr.) is still battling the effects of an ankle injury while senior Caroline Taylor is out with a broken toe. Deal has been in therapy since October.

When all is healed, Zannis said he still likes his team’s chances.

“The girls have an outside chance of getting to the state if they can get past D-B,” he said. “We lost one senior, and that moved people up. We look like a different team with the injuries, but when people get healthy I think we’re capable. We’ve got a lot of hard work to do.”

At the top of the lineup for the Hilltoppers is senior Alison Storie, who reached the individual state finals as a freshman.

“She has improved her transition game a lot,” said Zannis. “Off the ground she’s really solid with a lot of depth and control. It’s unique how deep she can hit, which sets up the rest of her game.”

Deal brings a lot of power and has a strong net game, said Zannis.

“She has great transitions,” he said. “Once she gets the right ball, she’s good at volleying and the stuff she likes to do.”

At the No. 3 spot is sophomore Hope Forbush, whose strength is ground strokes.

“She needs to work on her transition, but she is really good,” said Zannis.

Left-handed junior Leah Eddy is at No. 4 singles, and Taylor will be at No. 5 when she returns.

“Leah has improved her game and gotten better at volleying,” said Zannis. “She has a big forehand. Caroline is solid off the ground.”

Rounding out the lineup are freshman Avery Linton at No. 6, followed by freshmen Jamison Reid, Nicole Young, Julie Dunbar and Madison Trent.

Science Hill has home matches coming up against Knox Catholic (Wednesday) and Knox Webb (Thursday).

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