By Matt Hill
At one area school, new leadership is in place with a man who is used to success while at another an era will finish up this year and maybe in Murfreesboro.
Area Three Rivers tennis teams Elizabethton and Johnson County have a lot of high hopes this season.
Kenny Hardin, a successful softball coach for several seasons at Elizabethton, has made the switch to tennis and looks to have a strong team, especially on the boys’ side.
At Johnson County, all the talk is about Carlton Tugman and whether this is the year he gets past the region and reaches the state tournament.
Here is a look at the Elizabethton and Johnson County tennis teams, starting with Elizabethton.
Hardin has two hard acts to follow after the success of Danny O’Quinn and recently Teri Brumit, but for Hardin this is a challenge he is ready to meet.
“I’m just trying to learn and trying to get things right,” Hardin said. “I don’t want to short the players on anything and try to follow what Coach Brumit did — and she is there watching (her daughter) Jessica now and I don’t blame her. But I will try to keep up with what she did because she did such a great job with the program.”
When Hardin was coaching softball, he realized how important assistant coaches were and he has continued that philosophy in tennis with a staff that includes two former state tournament players.
Curtis Brumit has been helping for several years and this year 2003 state finalist Amanda Pike is volunteering her services as well.
“It’s tremendous to have their help,” Hardin said. “Curtis has always helped his mom and he knows the game, and Amanda Pike is doing her student teaching at the school, and is helping out a little bit, and we’re hoping she can maybe take over the whole program since she has had so much experience playing in college.”
The Cyclone success has been dominated by the girls led by ETSU player Jessica Brumit the last few years, but this year team-wise there might be a shift as the boys really have 10 or 11 players who are very solid in what might be the deepest Elizabethton team in recent years.
While there is not a player who figures to challenge Tugman or Unicoi County’s Reed Jackson, they will be tough to beat down the lineup.
“I think we’re going to have a very talented boys team from top to bottom,” Hardin said. “They’re going to be very competitive. We’re going to try to have our best six to eight to use come tournament time. I think our strength may be three, four, five and six in singles matches.”
Zack Peters, Eric Bowers, Landon Jones and Ward Tanner all return and Zack Treadway is a solid athlete who Hardin is expecting big things out of.
On the girls’ side, the departures of Brumit and Rita Basconi have put Haley Thacker in the spotlight.
Thacker’s main challenge will be Unicoi’s Mallory Jackson, the sister of Reed. Thacker has been in the shadows of Brumit the last few years, but she has the talent to have a special senior season.
Hardin has all the belief that Thacker can defeat anyone in the league.
“I expect a lot from Haley and she is the dominant girl on the team,” Hardin said. “I think she can beat anybody in the conference. She worked with Jessica all those years so she knows what it takes.
“I think it will be a great match with Mallory every time they play. They’re both fierce competitors and I look forward to watching those matches.”
Christine Hardin and Courtney Evans will also be among the top EHS players.
Not only are these kids solid athletes, they’re very good people with strong character. Coach Hardin has noticed that.
“That’s attributed to Coach Brumit and she is established the program, and grades and behavior are not a problem with this group,” he said. “We want to keep it that way. I have great kids to work with.
The Longhorn boys are led by Tugman, but coach Steve Nave believes that going into this season the squad is pretty solid throughout the lineup.
After Tugman, Timmy Bellamy and Ryan Whitener return for their junior seasons and they look to be very strong. The No. 4 and No. 5 seeds look to be Travis and Mitchell Stockinger and Justin Baker is the odds on favorite for the sixth seed with Andy Rosado and Joey Porter also trying to earn time.
Tugman is one of the best Johnson County has seen, but keeps running into Unicoi County. However, the way things are done at the tournament time and the depth of the league this year could actually play into his hands in winning that elusive District Tournament title.
“It is almost impossible to predict what it will take for Carlton to make the state tournament,” Nave said. “Obviously, Unicoi is very good and there are multiple approaches they could take come tournament time. At the regional level, Greeneville has two superb players. Of course we would love for Carlton to get over that hump and he definitely has the talent, but there is also a lot of luck involved. The success of his season and career will not be based on what happens this postseason. He is already one of the most decorated tennis players in JCHS history and it has been an honor to be a part of that.”
Bellamy and Whitener could also threaten come the postseason.
“I do expect Timmy and Ryan to have great seasons. They are maturing both mentally and physically and they must focus on match strategy as opposed to the past where they were primarily working on the basics,” Nave said.
The Johnson County girls look to be stronger this year and are led by an up and coming sophomore named Holly Adams.
Adams was a five-seed last year, but has been working with three-time District I-AAA champion David Poole in Abingdon, Va. and is now the go-to-girl for the Lady Longhorns.
Adams is very pleased with her and how the rest of the girls team stacks up.
“I am really encouraged by our girls team,” Nave said. “I have never had a player improve as much from one season to the next like Holly Adams has. I think it would a mistake to worry about wins and losses for her this year. We have some very good upperclass girls in our conference and I want her to just focus on getting better every match. Krista Warren, Tori Israel and Dawn Lewis are looking very good as freshmen. Karissa Cornett is coming back this year and I look for her to be much improved. The other positions are open for competition. We have basically a brand new team so its going to take some time to round out the lineup.”