COVINGTON - Moving down from Class AAAA to Class AAA does not mean the level of competition has dropped for the Eastside tennis program.
"I think the competition will be just as tough," first-year boys coach Brian Saffold said. "You've got Oconee County, who lost in the AAA finals; Franklin County, who lost in the second round of the AAA playoffs; Stephens County, who lost in the first round of AAA; and Morgan County, who lost in the first round of the AA playoffs. So we've got our work cut out for us."
With quite a challenge ahead, the Eagles do have the advantage of returning all seven players from last year.
Playing at the No. 1, 2 and 3 singles will be Jake Rienstra, Josh Miller and Micah East.
Playing on the doubles side are Luke Gilbert and Varn Cunningham at No. 1 and Tate LeClair and Pearson Cunningham at No. 2.
"All of these guys played last year," Saffold said. "There are others that played last year, but these seven guys are pretty much my starting lineup."
Other players that could see some playing time are freshmen Egan Kelly-Burnett, Chris Elliott and Zach Garrett.
"I expect (Kelly-Burnett) to come in and play some doubles for us this season," Saffold said. "Also, I'm hoping that Chris Elliott and Zach Garrett will play their way into the starting lineup. I'm looking for some challenging matches within my own team to help drive the level of competitiveness for this team this season."
The last time the Eastside boys made it to the playoffs was in 2006, when they lost 5-0 to Rome.
With an experienced team, Eastside has a chance to make to make it to postseason play again. However, that is not the ultimate goal for Saffold.
"I'm just looking for improvement over last year," he said.
Unlike the boys, who made the playoffs within the past four years, third-year girls coach Caralyn Beggs is hoping that this year could be their year.
Even though they have been close the last few seasons, they have not been able to get over the hump and into the postseason.
"Moving to a new region hopefully will not affect the team's successes," Beggs said. "I do know that Oconee (County) is notoriously good. We played them two years ago in nonregion play. I do not doubt that the rest of the region will be competitive."
Hoping to lead the girls to the next level are juniors Alison Miller and Nada Sedyame and sophomores Maryanne Fearnow and Amanda Leon.
New to the team are seniors Destiny McCrorey and Nan Bowden, sophomores Eryn Wyatt and Ashley Ralston, and freshman Amanda Hawkins.
"Eryn is the only new player who has played competitively," Beggs said. "However, the remaining four players have great athletic ability and are making great strides."
Even though the new players may not bring experience, they bring a sense of pride and camaraderie.
"Overall, there is a great team spirit. Everyone is very encouraging of one another," Beggs said.
The one thing that Beggs is emphasizing is mechanics and game strategy.
"I think the girls will do great," she said. "Unfortunately, the weather has hindered our practice schedule; although we try to make the most of each and every practice."
Manny Fils can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.