Niagara Gazette — The element that has made the Grand Island boys tennis team a mainstay atop the Niagara Frontier League for years is now an area of uncertainty.
The Vikings enter this season lacking the depth that earned them a share of the NFL title with North Tonawanda last year with a 12-2 record. It was the fourth league title for Grand Island coach Don Pray, who enters his 16th year as coach of the team.
Lost to graduation from the 2012 team are first singles player Justin Canazzi, and the undefeated first doubles team of Dave Mohr and Phyl Stallard. Replacing those players while getting production from other starters will be far from a cinch.
“Usually I have strong depth. That’s what usually pulls Grand Island through,” Pray said. “But right now, depth is my question mark.”
In singles, the Vikings return 2012 second-teamer, senior Jake Sweeney and third-teamer, sophomore Eric Riederer. They are set to assume the top two singles roles this season.
Senior Collin McMahon, who played second doubles a year ago, will be looked upon to help the team in first doubles this season. Junior Wyatt Mock could be one of the depth players Pray seeks, as he will push to start at third singles.
Pray noted once the Vikings gain more experience in early-season matches, they can make a push to finish near the top of the NFL again.
“That’s my goal this year, maybe be that team that all of a sudden is right there in the end,” Pray said. “But it’s going to take some hard work.”
Returning a major portion of their team, the Wolverines feature a balanced lineup that head coach Joe Sarkees believes is flying under the radar.
“I love our dark horse label this season,” he said. “We will make some noise.”
Senior Spencer Ventresca will take on first singles responsibilities, replacing second-team all-league player Kenneth Morgan. Senior Zachary Krebs, returning to the team after a one-year hiatus, will start at second singles and sophomore Michael Gibas will provide depth in third singles for the second straight year.
“Our balanced lineup will be a huge strength this year,” coach Joe Sarkees said. “Top to bottom, we definitely pack some punch.”
Junior James Spencer, sophomore Eric Ziemathis and eighth-grader Josh Reilly will compete in doubles.
“Our numbers are down this year. It’s the first time we’ve had less than 20 players since I’ve been coach,” Sarkees said. “But the talent is there. We’ll definitely compete this year.”
The Falcons enter this season in familiar territory.
They graduated four starters from last year’s 10-4 team, but still bolster a junior-centric roster that is apt to continue the program’s recent success. Falcons head coach Dan Krolewski feels fortunate that his year-to-year roster turnover has been moderate.
“Every year, we’ve kind of replaced three or four starters,” Krolewski said. “We’ve been in that kind of mode, which has been nice. It’s been able to keep us near the top of the league every year. If our juniors play well, we can definitely compete with the top teams in the league.”
Back for N-W is 2012 first singles player, junior Jason Bolea, who represented the NFL in the Section VI sectionals as a sophomore. Expected to take over the vacated second and third singles spots are two other juniors, Joe Lebold and Austin Hayes.
With the Falcons’ first doubles duo from 2012 departed, likely to take over as the first doubles team is junior Jacob Collins and senior Murray Taylor.
Ben Neubauer is in a unique position as the head coach at Wilson. His roster consists of players who have limited tennis experience, yet raw athletic ability.
This year, the Wilson roster has two seniors who are complemented by young, athletic players, many not all too familiar with playing the sport. Neubauer sees this as advantageous in developing the team for the future.
“We have a lot of new players stepping up, but we have the ability to do pretty well,” said Neubauer, whose team went 9-3 in the Niagara-Orleans League in 2012. “… If you get an athlete who listens, it’s a lot easier to coach, because it’s easy to take them at a younger age and build them up.”
Starting at first singles is junior Isaiah Barrett, who went 11-1 in third singles last season, his first year playing tennis at Wilson. Rounding out the expected starting singles lineup is junior Nathan Johnson and sophomore Dominic Curcione.
The Niagara-Orleans League has a joint boys and girls format and Johnson’s twin sister, junior Hannah Johnson, will assume a larger role in doubles this year. She was part of the second doubles team in 2012.
Graduating all seven starters from last year’s team and sporting no seniors on this year’s squad, winning is not of importance for Spartans head coach Rob Olear in 2013.
Olear noted the biggest objective he hopes to achieve this season is to get his young team some experience for a strong run next year.
“I talked to the guys, I said, ‘This is a year to kind of prepare you guys for next year, because we have a nice nucleus with three positions (first and second singles and first doubles).’”
Juniors Charlie Campanella and swimming standout Alec Toth will serve as the team’s first and second singles players. In first doubles, Olear likes his duo because he believes juniors Tyler Mack and Derek Terranova play well together.
The Spartans finished 6-6 in ECIC Division II a year ago.
The Lancers lost only two seniors from 2012’s team and will continue their youth movement this season with no seniors on the roster.
The team, which competes in the NFL, will return first singles player, junior Joe Laurendi, while junior Sean Richardson is the probable starter at second singles. Freshman Yash Maheshwari is expected to compete in third singles.
Lancers’ head coach Paul Frederick is high on the potential Maheshwari possesses on such a young team.
“He’ll be helping us this year and I’m really high on him for the future, as well,” Frederick said. “He has that commitment there that is needed to compete and he’s put in the time in the offseason.”
After losing four seniors to graduation, the Patriots are leaning on a new quartet of four-year seniors to guide them this season.
Senior Will Whisker is the team’s returning starter in first singles, with much of the remaining starting lineup still to be determined. Whatever position they play, the other three seniors, Alex Nearhood, Justin O’Connor and Jude Holka, will be integral to the team.
“I’m hoping that these guys will lead the rest of the team and do well,” Patriots head coach Brian Curtis said.
Curtis also anticipates sophomore Bryan Felstead, who played doubles a season ago, to step up and play singles this season.
Niagara Catholic finished 2-8 in the Monsignor Martin Athletic Association in 2012.
While the public schools’ girls tennis squads played in the fall, the Catholic schools hold their season in the spring.  The Patriots girls team returns five of its top athletes from a 3-8 team a year ago.
Seniors DeAnna Kajfasc and Madeline Sweeney and junior Aimee Misener will lead the Patriots in singles competition. Sophomore Jeana Frangione and junior Samantha Martineau will complete in doubles play.
Katy Rodriguez and Megan Nearhood will provide depth for a rotational doubles court.