Craig girls tennis on upswing
Craig's 2009 schedule
AUGUST: Today—Craig Invitational. 22—Craig Quadrangular. 25—At Sun Prairie. 25—At Beloit.
SEPTEMBER: 1—Madison La Follette. 3—At Madison Memorial. 8—Middleton. 10—At Parker. 15—Madison East. 17—At Madison West. 19—At Waukesha South. 22—Verona. 26—At Oconomowoc.
OCTOBER: 3—At Big Eight Tournament (Nielsen Tennis Stadium, Madison). 5—WIAA Subsectional. 7—WIAA sectional.
Camilla Owen is pretty sure her Janesville Craig girls tennis team is going to do better than its sixth-place Big Eight finish last year.
The Cougars scuffled to a 4-5 league record, but return most of the players from 2008. And virtually every Craig returnee spent the season taking outside tennis lessons and attending summer camps, something Owen, a Janesville Sports Hall of Famer, loved to see.
"I think if we can get these girls clicking on all cylinders, we might be OK," Owen said. "We were sixth in the Big Eight last year, but I think that's about the ability level we were at. We're hoping we can move up this year."
The Cougars will get a good look where they're at today when they open the season with the Craig Invitational. Action begins at 8:30, and eight teams will play on the courts at Craig High School, Marshall Middle School and Palmer Park. Fort Atkinson, Monroe, Burlington, Milton, Jefferson, Wauwatosa East, Sussex Hamilton will be part of the invitational. Every player on every team will play at least three matches.
The Cougars lose two starters from last year's team—Nicole Timblin, who played at No. 2 singles last year and qualified for the sectional meet, and No. 3 singles player Nicole Gutzman.
Owen returns starters at all the other spots and has some flexibility with the four players at No. 3 and No. 4 singles and No. 3 doubles.
Senior Niki Westenberger posted a 9-13 record at No. 1 singles last year.
"That's a tough road at No. 1," Owen said. "But she's been working on her game."
Junior Kelly Collins, who played at No. 4 singles and No. 3 doubles last season, has jumped up to No. 2 and might push Westenberger for the spot at No. 1.
"Kelly is making it competitive for Niki. She looks great. She's been playing all year. That's what kids need to do. We'll probably keep her at No. 2 just to get that experience. She has good stamina. She can stay out on the court forever if she needs, too."
Junior Maggie Bolton is penciled in at No. 3 singles, and senior Laudan Rezai is set for No. 4 singles. The two played together at No. 3 doubles, losing in the sectional final.
Owen says it's not unlikely that Bolton and Rezai will see more action as a doubles team.
That's where Craig's roster flexibility manifests itself.
The current No. 3 doubles team, juniors Ciarra Sroda and Minaliza Shahlapour, might get a shot at playing No. 3 and 4 singles.
"They're feisty, and they're aggressive," Owen said of her No. 3 doubles team. "They're going to make a good little doubles team. They rush the net. They eat it up. They love it. I have to teach them that they can't do that on every point.
"If I feel the need to use them in singles, I know Laudan and Maggie can play doubles. I think the flexibility will help us. We'll get a good indication (today) how the singles work out."
Craig's No. 1 doubles team of senior Hailey Smith and junior Taylor Storbakken will be paired for their third season together. They are 33-14 for two seasons and came one match shy of qualifying for state last year. They finished 8-1 in Big Eight dual meet play, but struggled to a fourth-place finish in the conference tournament.
"That was disappointing," Owen said. "I've seen them working all summer. They've been taking lessons and going to camps. They have a goal, and that's to get to state."
Senior's Olivia Ehlers and Emily Reshower will be playing at No. 2 doubles. This will be their fourth season as a doubles team. They are coming off a 13-9 season in which they finished fourth at the sectional meet.
Like Smith and Storbakken, they are also shooting for a trip to state.
"They have great potential," Owen said. "I've tried to separate them, but they only seem to play well when they're paired together. That's a sign of good chemistry."
Owen named four other players from her 29-girl roster who could make an impact this season. Junior Devon Timblin and sophomore Sarah Gray will open the season as the top singles players on the junior varsity roster. Sophomore Annika Whitcomb and junior Brianna Lane will be paired as the top JV doubles team.