It has been awhile since the Sheboygan North girls tennis team entered the season as a defending conference champion.
For the first time since 2007, the Golden Raiders won the Fox River Classic Conference (9-0) with the help of five seniors who were either playing in the third or fourth varsity season.
“So we knew we were going to be solid,” North coach Andrew Bayliss said. “What we didn’t exactly know was how we were going to fill in the other gaps. … I don’t think anyone expected us to win conference, but then after the season started, we just kept getting good result after good result.
“It was a blast. It was really cool because we had seniors who had been around for so long and put so much into it, that it was awesome. It was definitely the best feeling I’ve had as a coach.”
The fourth-year coach admits repeating will be “very tough,” however.
“Our singles lineup, as it stands now, is going to be three sophomores and a freshman,” Bayliss said. “We’ll have two seniors in the top 10, so we’re going to be very young this year. I think the focus is more on just getting better. I think we’ll be decent, but a conference championship would be a pretty tall order.”
The top returner is senior Ashwini Murthy, who played No. 1 doubles with then-senior Sommer Schoenenberger. The two reached the third round of the Division 1 state tournament and finished with a 28-5 record.
This year, Murthy will remain at No. 1 doubles and be teamed with junior Cadi Zhang, who was at No. 3 doubles.
Sophomore twins Cordelia and Louisa Damkot will battle for the No. 1 and 2 singles spots after they were a combined 54-6 at No. 3 and 4 last season.
Besides Schoenenberger, five others have to be replaced, including Mei Phillips (No. 1) and foreign exchange student Amanda Narro (No. 2).
Now that Dru Kuck graduated last year and is playing for Kansas State, it is Elizabeth Binder’s turn to figure out where she will continue the sport in college.
The junior has already visited Marquette University, UCLA, Pepperdine, UC-San Diego, UC-Santa Barbara, Loyola Marymount, Clemson, South Carolina and Louisville, and is getting recruited by several other Division I schools.
“It’s been really busy,” she said. “It’s been a lot of communication with coaches all the time. But I love it. I think it’s really fun and is a really good thing to have.”
North coach Chad Kuck thinks Binder, who made first-team all-conference as an outside hitter last year, is one of the top two players in the conference.
“She’s legit,” Kuck said. “She’s 6-3 but she plays six rotations. She can pass and play great defense for her size. She’s got everything.”
However, Binder is the only one of four Golden Raiders who made all-conference to return this year.
Kuck was not only named co-player of the year in the league, Kasey Bell (first team) and Annie Hopp (second team) also graduated after helping the team take second place in the FRCC for the second year in a row.
“It’s rough,” Kuck said. “Replacing them, playing-wise, is going to be tough. But their leadership is going to be the toughest thing to replace. We have pieces right now – I think I’ve got four girls who are 6-3, 6-4, so we’re huge – to replace them a little bit, but just the leadership and the experience those three had the last four years is really hard to replace.”
Senior Hope Sholten will be the new libero and senior Natalie Dulmes is the setter for North, which is a work in progress, according to its coach.
“We could be really good and in the hunt to win conference, or it’s a learning year until next year,” Kuck said. “I don’t know. We’ll find out.”
The top three golfers are back from the co-op team with South that won a regional championship after finishing third at the Fox River Classic Conference meet.
North juniors Zjeneexa Vang placed third at the league and Taylor Peper was sixth. South sophomore Ava Wittstock finished 12th.
“We are very optimistic this year,” coach Craig Walters said. “Those two are juniors, but they’ve got three years experience. Ava’s a sophomore with a full year under her belt. And our freshman, Anna Miller, has played in lots of PGA junior events, so she’s actually a very experienced freshman.”
Only eight of the 19 varsity members from the fifth-place team last year return. Four of them, however, finished in the top 12 at the conference championship meet.
Junior Gigi Gotzmer placed fifth in the 100-yard butterfly, junior Victoria Stonehouse took eighth in the 100 free and 12th in the 200 free, junior Molly Reichelsdorfer came in 11th in the 200 individual medley and 13th in the 100 breaststroke, and senior Lizzie Revelis took 12th in the 100 free.
“We’re young, so it’ll be interesting to see how the season goes with all the new faces,” coach Chad Prisinger said. “It’ll be a year of youth and uncertainty.”
Three seniors and the return of Owen Testwuide have created optimism for coach Tim Eirich.
“I think we’ll surprise some people this year,” he said.
Defender Ryan Biebel, a third-year starter, is joined by fellow senior midfielders Josue Flores-Lopez and Trevor Johnson.
Testwuide, a junior, played his freshman year at North and then spent last season in Florida.
But the Golden Raiders, who finished sixth in the FRCC with a 4-5 mark (9-9-1 overall), have to replace all three players that earned all-conference last season.
That includes the league’s defensive player of the year, Austin Thyes, as well as first-team midfielder Dawson Strysick and honorable mention defender Nate Hendriske.
The boys feature sophomore Thaddeus Zenk, who led the team by taking 19th place at the conference meet in 2018. The Golden Eagles finished seventh as a team and also bring back sophomore Eric Ruehborn and junior Trent Stuefen.
The girls, who took sixth, have their top two runners to count on in junior Ella Bogenschuetz (15th place) and sophomore Cassidy Jerdee.