Clovis High girls tennis coach Billie Merritt says her team is becoming more competitive all the time. The Lady Wildcats just have a hard time getting out of district.
Carlsbad is the three-time defending Class 5A state team champion, while Hobbs was a dominant team prior to that, Merritt said of her team’s District 4-5A rivals.
“We really are in a tough district,” Merritt said. “We’ve only had team tennis for about eight years and either Carlsbad or Hobbs has won it most of the time.
“If we compete well against those teams, we know we can compete at the state level.”
The Lady Cats bring back three players with state experience in seniors Shay Brady and Audie Rodela and freshman Jesenia Valez. Brady, who got to the second round in state doubles competition last year with the graduated Kalee Haragan, is expected to pair up with Rodela this year.
“We have to step it up,” Brady said of competing in the district. “It’s tough, but I’m excited.”
She said Rodela is more of a singles player than Haragan, but expects them to adjust.
“She doesn’t like doubles as much, but we do well at it,” Brady said.
While the Lady Cats graduated some key players, their two rivals return largely intact. “I think we have more depth (than in the past) because we have some returning state qualifiers,” Merritt said.
The Clovis boys finished second in the district last year, but coach Tom Ebel thinks the Wildcats can win it if they reach their potential.
“We should be the team to beat,” said Ebel, who doubles as the school’s head trainer. “We’re hoping for a good year, but it all depends on how hard we work in practice.”
The Cats return several people with state experience, including seniors Andy North and Deven Bhakta, juniors Nate Carter and Kyle Ferguson and sophomore Charlie Sharp. Another senior, Seth Zarate, reached state two years ago.
North, a native of England and the Cats’ placekicker in football, finished fourth at state in doubles last year. But after finishing third in singles in last weekend’s season-opening Palo Duro Invitational at Amarillo, he’s looking at trying his hand in that division.
“I’m hoping to get to the finals at state,” he said. “We’re going to work a lot harder in practice this year.”
Ebel said doing that in singles will be challenging, but he was encouraged by North’s opening performance.
“Hopefully, he can get to the final four at state,” Ebel said. “I think he’s that good.”