DUBLIN — West Bladen tennis coach Jeff Atkinson has the luxury this season of having six of his seven top players returning to the courts, and thinks it could be another record-setting year for the Lady Knights.
West Bladen’s girls earned a school-record nine wins last season, and only lost No. 1 player Josie Ludlum from that squad.
But moving into that No. 1 slot will be rising senior Alicia Avellaneda, who was undefeated in the Four County Conference last year. Avellaneda is also the vocal leader of the team.
The rest of the Lady Knights’ top six singles will include rising senior Madison Staton at No. 2, rising sophomore Alanna Ludlum at No. 3, rising sophomore at No. 4, rising senior Tatianna Sturgis at No. 5 and rising sophomore Sydney Jackson at No. 6.
In doubles, Avellaneda will partner with Long at No. 1, Staton will pair up with Ludlum at No. 2 and Sturgis will team up with Jackson at No. 3.
Atkinson said he expects to see some challenges for positions throughout the early part of the season.
“I’m excited about the season having all that experience back,” Atkinson said. “And so far, the girls are all working hard, hitting the ball well and seem enthusiastic.”
Earlier in the week, West Bladen scrimmaged against Whiteville, and Atkinson said he was happy with most of what he saw.
“We played right with them for the most part,” he said. “We still need some work on our net play and have to avoid unforced errors, but I’m going to keep pushing the girls to reach their potential.”
Atkinson said he’s put together a tough non-conference schedule to test the team right from the start. That early season schedule includes matches against Class 4-A schools like Cape Fear and Purnell Swett. They will open the season with a home match against West Columbus on Monday at 4 p.m.
Looking ahead to the conference schedule, Atkinson said Clinton is still the team to beat.
“They lost their two top players, but I think they will still be tough,” he said. “I think we can give them a good run, though.”
Atkinson said he thinks Wallace-Rose Hill will also be in the mix, and that East Bladen and Pender County should be improved.
The Lady Eagles are expected to field a young team on the courts this season as it tries to move up in the conference.
East Bladen will feature a seniorless team that will be led by rising junior Kathryn Cole, as well as rising sophomores Justayana Gargala and Laney Cross — all of whom are returning starters.
Coach Megan Kirby’s team won’t have a non-conference schedule. They will open Sept. 2 at home against Clinton in the Four County Conference opener.