CONYERS - The Heritage tennis program is off to a hot start on the court thus far.
On Feb. 12, the Heritage girls upset defending state champion Starr's Mill in their season opener.
In singles action, Heritage junior Taylor Maloney, senior Stephanie Humphries and freshman Alix Maloney each won their matches.
In No. 1 doubles, Heritage sophomores Amanda Voyles and Callie Alford won.
"I am very pleased with the way we competed at Starr's Mill," Heritage girls coach Brian Smith said. "The girls have conditioned and practiced hard in the preseason, and their hard work has paid dividends to this point."
Although the Heritage boys squad lost four top doubles players from the previous two years - Brad Hardin, Blake Craft, J.J. Ramsey and Jacob Zirbel - it still has plenty of depth returning.
"All four were very good players and enjoyed playing and practicing," Heritage boys coach Chuck Landy said. "J.J. and Blake are playing college tennis this year. We'll miss their leadership as much as their tennis ability."
Seniors Jonathan Stone and Cody Provence, along with junior Zachary Landy, return, each among the top seven last year.
"We have a chance to be pretty good this year. Our top players need to compete and play well," Chuck Landy said. "We've got to find the right combinations of players for our doubles teams."
Juniors Jordan Worthington and Jacob Worthington, including sophomore Heath Williams, played mainly JV matches last season.
"(They) look a lot more ready to step in and contribute," Chuck Landy said.
Fresh faces who should have a significant impact for the Patriots this season include senior Joey Roppo and juniors Frankie Merkel, Rafeal Chaney and Erik Lauritsen.
"We also have some good young players coming into our program," Chuck Landy said. "Our team enjoys practicing and working together. We don't get too caught up in who plays where. Our focus is on doing what's best for our team."
Heritage opted to create a tough schedule, one that includes Starr's Mill, Brookwood, Parkview, Oconee and Athens Academy.
"As long as we work and improve we should be pretty solid by the time we hit the region tournament in mid-April," Chuck Landy said. "In addition to our subregion schedule, we've gone out and scheduled some of the best tennis teams in the state.
"Hopefully, this type of competition will help us improve and get us ready for the stretch run," he added.
For the girls, Heritage's biggest loss from last season is Christine Harper. However, the outlook remains good for the Lady Patriots, especially after winning their season opener in thrilling fashion.
"We have high expectations for our 2009 team. We play a tough non-subregion/region schedule in order to get ourselves battle-tested for the region tournament in mid-April," Smith said. "We have a good mix of returning players and hard-working newcomers."
Such newcomers include Maloney and Humphries. Alford, Voyles, Keeli Smith, Liz Forrester and Chanelle Fairweather round out the team.
"Our players work hard and take pride in preparing themselves to be great players," Brian Smith said.
Jason Murdock can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SideBar: At a glance
Team: Heritage Tennis
Coach: Chuck Landy (boys), Brian Smith (girls)
Next match: 6 p.m. today vs. Madison County at Heritage
Key returning players:
· Boys: Jonathan Stone, Cody Provence, Zachary Landy, Jordan Worthington, Jacob Worthington and Heath Williams
· Girls: Taylor Maloney, Stephanie Humphries, Callie Alford, Amanda Voyles, Keeli Smith, Liz Forrester and Chanelle Fairweather