The Brownwood High School tennis program is under new management, as former assistant Crystal Blazek has taken over the reins following the retirement of Mark Davis. The Lions and Lady Lions held their first practice of the season Wednesday, seven days prior to their first match of the fall semester at home against Sweetwater.

“I'm excited and it's going very well,” said Blazek, who served for three years as an assistant at Brownwood. “(Former Brownwood assistant and Howard Payne head) Coach (Dalton) Hutchins came in and he's going to be the assistant. I think we're going to work great together.”

Along with a new head coach, the Lions and Lady Lions find themselves in a new district as well. Gone from the schedule is Abilene Wylie, a perennial state contender during its time in Class 4A that derailed multiple Brownwood attempts at a district championship in seasons past.

“Wylie's out of it, so that's a good thing,” Blazek said. “I expect us to be district champs and go a few rounds in the playoffs. We have a pretty solid girls side coming back and the top boys are going to be pretty good, too. We're young, but we should still be good.”

Brownwood — which posted a 12-7 fall record as the 5-4A runner-up a year ago — will compete in the revamped District 7-4A along with Godley, Glen Rose and Mineral Wells. Stephenville is also in the district, but does not field a tennis team.

“I don't know much about Godley but I'm sure they'll be competitive because they are in every sport they compete in,” Blazek said. “Glen Rose and Mineral Wells will be tough, but we should be up there. I think we match up pretty well.”

Among the key returnees for Brownwood, according to Blazek, are Piper Barberie, Mckinzie Adkins and Kaitlyn Welch on the girls side, along with Gabe Hinojosa, James Bautista and Cameron Smith on the boys side. An influx of new talent this season is also expected to make a considerable contribution, though Blazek is taking a wait and see approach regarding which newcomers might emerge.

“The youth we have, I don't consider it a weakness,” Blazek said. “They're enthusiastic and ready to go. They can be really good, they just have to believe in themselves. We have to get their confidence built because they're so young but once they realize that the sky's the limit.”

Following next Wednesday's home opener against Sweetwater, the Lions and Lady Lions travel to Copperas Cove (Aug. 10-11), face Iowa Park in Mineral Wells (Aug. 14), battle Midland Greenwood at San Angelo Lake View (Aug. 16), and venture to Cove again (Aug. 18) before hosting Killeen High (Aug. 20). Brownwood is then back on the road at Graham (Aug. 21) prior to three straight home matches against Lake View and San Saba (Aug. 25) along with Lampasas (Aug. 30). The pre-district schedule concludes with matches against Big Spring and Snyder in Sweetwater (Sept. 1).

“We're playing some teams that used to be in our district, so we're hoping to pick up some wins there,” Blazek said. “Then we'll also see some good competition against some 5A schools.”

District play begins Sept. 6 when Glen Rose visits followed by a Sept. 13 trip to Mineral Wells and a Sept. 18 home date against Godley. The second half of district features a Sept. 27 trip to Glen Rose, an Oct. 4 home match with Mineral Wells and the regular season finale Oct. 11 at Godley.