Brownwood’s string of team regional tennis appearances was snapped last fall, and though the Lions and Lady Lions are even younger this season, they fully expect to be back at the Region II tournament in late October.
Only one spring individual regional qualifier — junior Will Thomas, who advanced in mixed doubles — is returning for the fall, while a grand total of two seniors are listed on the 22-player roster.
“We’re still a young team,” said Brownwood head tennis coach Dave Cunha. “We don’t have one girl this year that’s above a sophomore and we still have a relatively young boys team with only two seniors. We’re still young overall, but most of them have more experience and we should be much better this year.”
Brownwood’s seniors are Ryan Hembree and Gabe Cardenas and the juniors include Thomas, Luis Vallecillo, Steven Pinkard, Chris Anderson and Jose Delgado. The Lions also have two sophomores — Ryan Barkley and Cooper Morelock — and three freshmen — Brandon Thompson, Andrew Harding and Michael Fuller — on the roster.
Meanwhile, the Lady Lions roster consists of five sophomores — Claire Faetche, Kori Bennett, Andrew Leonard, Kathryn Priddy and Sophia Chaput — and five freshmen — Joan Burks, Julia Arledge, Kinsey Colegrave, Ilse Rincon and Krysta Whitehead.
With such a young roster, Cunha has again loaded up the pre-district schedule to prepare the Lions and Lady Lions for a District 16-4A battle that should feature Midway, Copperas Cove and Brownwood fighting for the two regional berths.
“They all work hard and want to be better and I think that’s because they’re young,” Cunha said. “They want the team to go on to regionals this year — that’s our fall goal. Again it’s probably going to be between us, Copperas Cove and Midway. We’re not taking anybody for granted, but that’s probably going to be the three strongest teams again. I know Midway and Copperas Cove lost some people, and I feel like we haven’t lost near what they have and we’ll be right here with them.
Among the opponents on Brownwood’s pre-district schedule are Granbury, Abilene High, San Saba, Fredericksburg, Abilene Wylie, Jim Ned and Lampasas. The Lions will also take part in the Waco tournament for the second year in a row.
“We have 11 pre-district matches and we’re probably going to add one or two more,” Cunha said. “Every bit of experience we can get, every bit of extra practice will help us better determine what our best doubles team will be, who should be playing what positions, and things like that.”
Brownwood opens the season Saturday with a dual match against Marble Falls and Harker Heights in Copperas Cove. Though the matches are the official start of the season, Cunha is not putting as much weight on the outcome due to the team being short-handed.
“We’re going to be missing some people this weekend,” Cunha said. “We have some that haven’t made it back from vacation and others that aren’t able to go this weekend, so we won’t have our full team. I’m counting this weekend as more of a scrimmage than anything.”
District 16-4A action begins on Sept. 18 when Killeen visits, then the Lions and Lady Lions head to Waco High on Sept. 25. The two crucial matches in district play should occur Oct. 9 when Copperas Cove comes to town, and Oct. 16 when Brownwood ventures to Midway for the district finale.
“The ones that were here last year, they know we were close (to making regionals),” Cunha said. “Even though we’re younger, they feel we have a lot better chance of advancing this year and they really want to. Missing out last year is just more motivation for them.”