Few high school girls tennis teams make a big impression in their first season of action. But the Hough High School squad has bucked that trend by not only quickly bonding together as a team but also challenging for the I-MECK 4A conference championship this fall.

It would have been easy for the Huskies to unsuspectingly fall into cliques during their first season. Hough fielded its 2010 roster with 12 players from six different schools throughout the county.

It wouldn’t have been unrealistic for the three former North Mecklenburg High School players – Brianna Bodner, Jessica Horn and Lizzie Grainda – to hide in the comfort of their subgroup, or for the three former Charlotte Catholic players – Morgan Marin, Jenna Wagner and Courtney Wakeman – to collectively keep others at a tennis racket’s distance.

It was also quite possible for former SouthLake Christian Eagle Jennifer Corley and Lake Norman Charter’s Allie Schutrum to find something in common without a former teammate on the squad, or Corley to have bonded with fellow freshman Riya Anand during their first year of high school.

Instead, the Huskies have come together quite nicely under former Hopewell assistant coach Julie Fox, who accepted her first varsity head-coaching job last spring to build the Hough tennis program. She, too, started the season in unfamiliar territory. Growing pains or not, the Huskies still jumped out to an impressive 7-1 start, winning their first three I-MECK 4A matches against North Meck, Vance and Hopewell.
“I was surprised how well the girls bonded,” said Fox. “In just a few weeks of practice, they started having slumber parties and working on homework together. They make decisions as a team instead of just one person (leading the group).”

Fox said a clean slate for the incoming players promoted healthy competition throughout the ranks. Only top seed Bodner has kept her position from the first match. Marin took over the second seed early this season, while Wakeman and Wagner have worked their way up to the No. 3 and No. 4 positions, respectively, and won nine of their 10 matches.

But the biggest surprise has been the play of the freshmen, Corley and Anand, who have performed admirably at the fifth and sixth spots. Corley has come through with four victories, while Anand collected two wins in three matches after taking the final spot. Anand earned the sixth seed in an intrasquad challenge match against Schutrum, who won six of her first seven matches.

“We have great depth on this squad, and girls have moved up and down the rankings,” said Fox. “Most programs have three or four talented players, so I didn’t expect to have so much depth. It was a pleasant surprise.”

But there are still challenges ahead. The Huskies suffered their first conference loss in heartbreaking fashion to undefeated Lake Norman High School on Oct. 4. The Wildcats just got past the Huskies with a 10-8 win in the final doubles match of the day, grabbing a 5-4 team victory.

Hough, however, still has hope for a conference title. As of the Oct. 4 match, both teams had yet to play Mooresville, which is also undefeated in league play. Lake Norman faced Mooresville on Oct. 5, while the Huskies played the Blue Devils on Oct. 6.

North Meck rebuilding

After winning four consecutive conference titles, North Mecklenburg has fallen on hard times since moving into the I-MECK 4A. The Vikings graduated five seniors from a team that finished in third place last season, and they haven’t won a match in four tries this year, falling to Ardrey Kell, Providence, Lake Norman and Hough.

Three more players transferred to Hough this year, stripping the program of its depth. North Meck’s roster is now only eight players deep, and four of those athletes are scheduled to graduate in the spring, leaving coach Laura Taylor with a major recruiting project this offseason. She has just four players for six spots expected to return in 2011.

As for this year, junior Jamie Michael returns as the No. 1 seed, but she is the only player with significant top-six experience. Seniors Megan Hornbeck (No. 2 seed), Bansari Patel (No. 3), Lindsey Zamiela (No. 4) and Mckenize Carroll mostly saw doubles action last fall. Freshman Maggie Li (No. 5) is one of three teammates in her class that hope to recapture North Meck’s championship tradition.

Titans return seniors, ot experience

The Titans girls tennis team (2-10, 1-4 in the I-MECK 4A) boast six seniors, but only second seed Carly Amato saw significant playing time in top-six action last season. In 2009, five seniors received the lion’s share of court time, leaving this year’s crop to learn on the run.

With the top six spots up for grabs during intrasquad challenge matches, there have been many shakeups in the team rankings throughout the season. Hopewell’s Abigail Nails took over the top spot four matches ago, while Amato moved up to No. 2 a few weeks ago. Christen Outland held the No. 1 position for most of the season but now plays in the third seed.

“Abigail worked extremely hard for the No. 1 position,” said first-year coach Lindi McCurry. “She and Outland were evenly matched to begin the season.”

Junior Emily Rodriguez holds down the fourth seed, while senior captain Cassi Addamo plays at No. 5. Lawren Thomson is the No. 6 seed, and seniors Alyssa Cuddy and Miranda Broyles round out the squad.

Hopewell finished  the season against North Meck on Oct. 6.

Knights gear up for PAC tournament

The Lake Norman Charter got off to a hot 5-1 start this season but have since cooled off, dropping two of its last four matches. After a 7-2 victory over Davidson Day on Oct. 5, the Knights are 7-3 with one regular season match left to play against Lincoln Charter before the 2010 Piedmont Athletic Conference tournament begins Monday, Oct. 11. Sravya Uppalapati holds the top position on the squad, while Mallory Warren, Ollie Smithers, Katherine Napier, Catherine Onia and Leanne Smithers round out the top six.

Eagles take second seed to MAC tourney

SouthLake Christian finished the regular season with a 4-6 mark, 3-4 in the Metrolina Athletic Conference. In doing so, Coach Darren Moore and his Eagles gained the second seed for the conference tournament, which will be held on Oct. 18 at Hornets Nest Park off Beatties Ford road.