WAKE FOREST — Junior Casey Langer has some realistic goals for her Franklin Academy girls tennis team this season.
And since the Patriots reached the Final Four of the 1A North Carolina High School Athletic Association state championships last year, setting the bar high is only natural.
“We are a very strong team and I think we will go on being in the top or better this year,” Langer said. “If we can work on our doubles skills, I think that will boost our wins as a team.”
With five of six returners back, the team will look to continue building on its success in its quest to climb the ranks.
The Patriots ended 2012 with a 13-7 mark and their season closed with a loss to North Carolina School of Science and Math.
This year the Patriots will not face NCSSM because of the conference realignment and will play in the new North Central Athletic Conference. They will challenge just four schools on the courts, including Roxboro Community, River Mill, Voyager and Raleigh Charter.
“These were all of our conference opponents from the past two years along with some 2A schools,” said Franklin Academy Gregg Duffy.
The new schools in the conference, East Wake Academy, Kestrel Heights and Woods Charter, do not have a women’s tennis team.
“Raleigh Charter looms as the biggest hurdle for us,” Duffy said. “We beat all of these teams twice last season, but it was close and we expect them to be tough this season.”
“But we are looking forward to our best season yet,” Duffy added.
The Patriots number one singles player from last season graduated and Duffy said he has 20 players competing for playing spots.
“It will be a close competition and everyone looks like they have improved remarkably,” Duffy said. “We realistically have a chance to go back the state finals as a team and not having to face NCSSM, leaves us as a team to beat in the East.”
Doubles will be the biggest opportunity for improvement, according to Duffy.
“We need to be able to put matches away or come from behind,” he said. “Last year we relied on our good singles play and then held on.”
Langer, who played No. 2 singles last year, will more than likely be the Patriots top player this season but Duffy said she has challengers.
The all-conference player finished in the top 10 in the 1A state individual tournament and was undefeated in singles during team matches.
“Casey seems to be playing better than ever,” Duffy said. “She is hitting the ball with more power and her serve has added pop.”
Sophomore Kinsey Ness, another all-conference player, has improved and is eager to challenge Langer for the top spot, said Duffy.
“She was our No. 3 player last year and she has a very competitive spirit and very good strokes from both sides,” Duffy said. “She should have many victories this year.”
Ness lost one match last season.
Krysten Le, a freshman, is a new player for Franklin Academy but brings much experience and a great game, according to Duffy.
“She has a good serve and hits the ball hard from both sides,” he said. “She will do well and we are glad to have her.”
Two other players who will compete are senior and all-conference players Brianna Kusilek and Erin Connell, a junior, who also played in the individual state tournament.
“Brianna is back for her senior year and playing better than ever,” he said. “She will be our senior leader and probably play at the No. 4 spot.”
“Brianna was a bright spot for us in doubles too,” Duffy said. “She is great at the net, fearless and eager to put points away and we need more like her.”
Connell was also undefeated in team matches last season and is back for her third year.
“We expect good things from her too,” Duffy said. “She has a consistent style, letting her opponents beat themselves.”
The remaining spots on the team are yet to be determined but Duffy anticipates a challenge between sophomores Taylor Henrie, Lauren Emer, Elizabeth Keel and freshman Bonnie Morgan and Grace Miller, a senior.
“Taylor was our No. 5 singles player last season and she won a lot of matches,” he said.
“Lauren has improved dramatically since last year and is a good doubles player,” Duffy added. “Elizabeth is also much improved and will play a lot.”
The rest of the team, Duffy said, is in a development stage and they include senior Jessica Graham, juniors Ramsey Gunter and Nnena McKinney, sophomore Melissa Martin and freshmen Claire Joyner, Brinley Schnegelberger, Madeline Delello, Kat Liederbach, and Christina and Anastasis Shymonyak.
“We are all very excited and feel we have a great experienced team this year,” Langer said. “We hope not only to do our best and be successful but with this year’s group, we plan to work together to improve our game and have a good time doing so.”