By RYAN CZACHORSKI
---- — St. Anthony has been a powerhouse in tennis over the past few seasons, going 54-2 over the last three springs.
But the Bulldogs return just two seniors, and lost four of their top six singles players.
Led by Cole Buehnerkemper, the question isn’t if the Bulldogs will still be a force to be reckoned with, but how far a young roster can carry the team.
“How good four, five, and six are (will be key),” said coach Joe Reynolds.
Buehnerkemper is the unquestioned top singles player, coming off a stellar 25-2 season in 2012. He won his third sectional championship last year and his second as a singles player, and gave up just two games over four matches en route to that title.
“He can beat anyone in Decatur or Springfield,” Reynolds said. “Cole is one of the top players in southern/central Illinois. Cole has all of the shots as well as a complete all-around game.”
He is joined in his senior class by Jack Fifer, who was 14-1 last year as the Bulldogs’ sixth singles player. Reynolds said the senior could move up to fourth singles to round out the top part of the Bulldog rotation.
Fifer was also solid in doubles, and he finished first in the fourth doubles event at the Champaign Doubles Invitational last season.
To fill the spots in between Buehnerkemper and Fifer, Reynolds is turning to junior Frank Jansen and freshman Jay Niebrugge.
Jansen was 12-1 last season splitting time between fourth and fifth singles. He also has made is mark as a doubles player, going 19-6 last season on his way to his second straight qualification in the IHSA state doubles tournament. He finished third last year and fourth in 2011.
Niebrugge steps into the top half of the singles lineup as a freshman, but Reynolds called him one of the finest freshman in the area.
“There’s days he comes out there and he plays (really) well,” he said. “(He) has an outstanding all-around game.”
Scott Rentfrow and Luke Jansen are in line to round out the singles rotation. Rentfrow teamed with Fifer on doubles last year, but has spent the last year working his way into singles play, Reynolds said.
Luke Jansen could be the sixth singles player, as Reynolds said he contineus to improve his game and called the junior “very steady”.
Tommy Schottman and Alec Niebrugge make up the sophomore class, and both could push Rentfrow and Luke Jansen for the final two singles spots.
Chris Jones and Ian Harris round out the roster as freshman after coming up through the Park District program. Their role on the Bulldogs is unclear as of now, but Reynolds stressed their importance to the 2013 squad.
“They are improving and have the ability to grow their game as they are both very coachable and eager to become good tennis players,” Reynolds said.
The three doubles teams are undecided, as the cold and rainy conditions have prevented
After losing Cole Heuerman, Andrew Stephens, Brande Kurzeja and Aaron Walters, the future is a little murky for St. Anthony. The four players qualified for eight state tournaments amongst them.
Still, St. Anthony is looking to extend its run of success, as they have won eight sectional tournaments over the past 13 seasons.
They go for a ninth in 14 seasons starting this Saturday, when they travel to the Marquette Catholic Tennis Tournament.