Numbers, confidence high for Alpena girls tennis team in 2019

News Photo by Jonny Zawacki The 2019 Alpena High girls tennis team from left to right is: back: assistant coach Jim Burles, Danielle Schackmann, Gwynevere DenBleyker, Taylor Hansen Bates, Taylor Belanger, Mija Pilkaite, Rachel Hart, Tilly Williams, Maggie Daksam, Josie Baker, Eleni Hantzis and head coach Charlie Giordano; front: Madi Speaks, Emilee Spomer, Emeline Hanna, Brynna Smith, Amelia Berles, Arlene Dai, Victoria Andersen and Kiersten Wirgau.

In recent years, the Alpena High girls tennis team has seen its numbers fluctuate from season to season.

The 2019 season will be different however and the Wildcats enter with large numbers and great deal of confidence and experience.

A total of 18 girls make up the rosters between the varsity and JV teams, which provides the team plenty of competition.

“We have a great group of kids that are dedicated and want to do well. The try out process wasn’t all that fun, it was long, but we had a lot of girls that were close to making varsity so we’re in a position now where we have 14 or 15 girls that could play varsity, compared to four or five years ago when we only had about eight varsity players and the others were just playing, so it really feels good to have a good, solid team,” Alpena coach Charlie Giordano said. “Our program is growing, our kids are getting better, they’re coming in with more skills and we’re able to teach them more strategy. These kids get the luxury of playing year round and that keeps their game up and allows them to work on new things. They’re competitive enough with each other that when they get out and play, they’re trying to win rather than just play for fun. This team is more focused on winning, but for me, as long as you’re doing your job, that is what’s most important.”

The varsity team is made up of 12 players, including four singles competitors and four pairs of doubles teams.

The Wildcats are led by their No. 1 singles standout and state finalist from a year ago, sophomore Gwyn DenBleyker. Last year, DenBleyker became the first Alpena High School freshman in many years to qualify for the state finals after she finished runner-up at regionals.

DenBleyker has picked up right where she left off as she’s started this season winning her first two matches of the season.

Along with DenBleyker, senior Brynna Smith returns and will compete at No. 2 singles, junior Emeline Hanna will spend time playing at No. 3 singles and freshmen Madi Speaks and Emily Spomer will be part of a platoon at No. 4 singles.

“Our singles lineup is pretty much the same from a year ago. This year because we have enough strong players, we’re going to be doing a platoon and we have three girls that can play at No. 4 singles, so there will be a different girl playing at every match and it won’t be based off of who is doing better, we’re just simply going to rotate to get the girls match experience,” Giordano said. “We have a few girls on JV that are going to cycle in and get a couple of matches throughout the season.”

Seniors Taylor Belanger and Mija Pilkaite will lead at No. 1 doubles as they return for another year and formed tremendous chemistry to anchor Alpena’s doubles teams.

Junior Rachel Hart and freshman Arlene Dai make up the No. 2 doubles team, Amelia Burles and Tilly Williams will compete at No. 3 doubles and juniors Taylor Hansen Bates and Danielle Schackmann are the No. 4 doubles pair.

“It’s nice when you have a JV program so these girls can get varsity experience because it makes the transition easier getting up to the varsity team,” Giordano said. “It’s huge having the experience that we do and we have enough leadership and our more experienced players have set the the tone for what needs to happen and the level of expectation is for the girls and how hard they need to work. We’re looking forward to a good season and it’s going to be a lot of fun.”