Most high school teams enter an upcoming season with holes to fill, which are usually caused by graduation.
Bentonville’s girls tennis team is no exception, but the voids the Lady Tigers must fill are more than coach Nick Nersesian first anticipated. This time, graduation isn’t the only culprit.
Brooke Killingsworth, last year’s Class 7A and overall state singles champion, decided to be home-schooled, as did Jasmine Humbert, who was on the Lady Tigers’ No. 2 doubles team. Avery Hargrove, one-half of the 7A and overall state champion doubles team, chose to transfer to Bentonville West for her senior year.
“The dynamics of girls changed for two things: transfers and home school,” Nersesian said. “Some of the kids decided to be home-schooled or transfer to another school. But that doesn’t mean we’re going to be out.
“We’ve been so competitive for so many years, coming off three straight state championships, and the competition level was high. The underclassmen that are now seniors and juniors should be able to step it up. They’ve been put to the test, and we’ll make them ready.”
All positions — singles and doubles — are open for the taking, with Bessie Sullivan being the closest person to having a lock on a spot. The senior, who was on a state championship doubles team two years ago and has drawn collegiate attention as a doubles player, can continue that route if she chooses, and Nersesian said he hopes to find her a good partner if she does.
Fellow seniors Emily Snyder, Katelyn Joubert, Kale Laszewski and Mary Corbett will battle for those other spots, as will juniors Natalie Blevins and Danielle Bulel and sophomore Mary Corbett. Nersesian hopes to use the early part of the schedule, which includes a team tournament at Arkansas Tech, to get things settled and players in their proper place.
Bentonville High boys
Bentonville’s boys are in a similar situation as the girls in one sense. Nersesian said there are 10 players on the roster that in the mix for six spots, and everything is wide open as the Tigers try to return to the upper echelon in the 7A-West Conference and the state.
“After five (state titles) in a row, we’ve taken our lumps the last couple of years,” Nersesian said. “I think some of these underclassmen took tennis for granted. They realize they need to put a little more work in it and use a little more patience.
“We’re thinking a little more when we’re out on the course. I like what they did this summer, and it’s open.”
Bentonville has a little experience returning as junior Jake Keefauver played in the Class 7A state tournament last year in singles, while senior Sanket Srivastava did likewise in doubles action. Keefauver, however, has expressed a desire to play some doubles since he is drawing interest from college coaches, and Srivastava might be interested in singles competition.
That could open a door for someone like senior Mason Lane, who has impressed Nersesian through his offseason work. Others include seniors Luke Neja, Hunter Freeman, Sid Ramesh, Neil Balasekaran and Jackson Thompson, juniors Griffin Langford and freshman Vikram Balasekaran.
“Sanket lost to a team from Catholic, and he learned a heck of a lesson from it,” Nersesian said. “He has really fast hands like some of the old doubles players we’ve had in the past, and he really likes it. Then again, he likes singles.
“We’re going to have some fun out there. The competition level among each other is going to be good, and I can’t wait to see what they can do and what they are willing to do.”