Historically, Fayetteville has been known to produce state championship-level boys tennis teams, but coach Darin Phelan has that same feeling about the Lady Purple’Dogs this year.
In 2016, he plans to send to the courts one of the strongest girls teams he’s had since he’s been coaching to compete for conference and possibly state championships. “I’m really excited about the girls program,” he said. “We’ve got a chance to do something fun.”
Phelan has a solid group of returning players ready to make a run at a state title. Highlighting the team is his No. 1 player from last season, Cam Cupelli. Also back to compete in doubles matches is Anna Maroustakos. Phelan expressed his excitement for freshman Mary Houston as well.
The boys, like the girls, are returning a vast majority of players a season removed from a conference championship. Hans Corbel leads the group, he says, along with Isaac Lundstrum, Marquise Hayes, Austin Gantz and Trevor Malioux. With this core back, the coach has the same high expectations of winning at a high level.
“Those guys are on the top and have been in the program a while, so I’m really going to be calling on them to step up this year,” Phelan said.
While Phelan feels strongly about his teams this year, he was quick to note the parity the 7A-West can provide, especially in tournament play. Fayetteville has long rivaled Bentonville – and Rogers – on the boys and girls sides, for championships at times. Don’t count out Springdale High, Springdale Har-Ber and Rogers Heritage, though, he says. All it takes is the right player or players to get hot at the right times.
“That is one thing we get with the 7A-West is competitiveness,” he said. “Teams like Springdale, Har-Ber and Heritage can have one or two really good players and win the conference. It can go any way with any team winning it.”
Nick Nersesian’s Bentonville squads are also expected to be state contenders. The Lady Tigers brought home the 7A crown on the girls side last fall. (Nersesian had no comment on his team when reached by the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on Tuesday.)
This year, there is the new kid on the block in Bentonville West, too. Coach Hunter Alexander, fresh from an assistant coaching position at Tulsa Union (OK), saw an opportunity to build the newest program in the 7A-West, and jumped at it. Alexander won a girls junior high state title in just his second season in Tulsa. But with any new program, there are struggles, particularly with numbers.
“There’s some hurdles, especially when you’re trying to build a program in tennis,” Alexander said. “I’ve been fortunate in having several good players come over from Bentonville High, but we’re still very small and trying to create a tennis culture.”
For the Wolverines, Hayden Shoemake looks to be one of the bright spots for Alexander, while freshman Sarah Schneringer has stood out as a very talented, immediate-impact type player.