It has been five weeks since the team’s first practice, but at the very last, the Jefferson City Jays will open their season opener for a tennis court today.
“There was a shift in our spring break, which ended up shifting around our schedule,” said Jefferson City coach Henry Thompson ahead of today’s home match at Capital City High School. “There are many teams in the same boat. We’re not the only ones.”
Starting the season a few weeks late means Jefferson City will play a jam-packed schedule with 18 of the next 31 days.
“It’s given us some time to let the kids have some time off, and not just practice, practice, practice every single day,” Thompson said.
The Jays have 22 players on the roster this spring, including four returners from the varsity lineup.
“We’re a very young team but talented,” Thompson said. “The one thing we’re lacking right now is the match experience.”
Aarush Deshpande, a junior, will start at No. 2 singles, while junior Riley Cooper will follow at No. 3 singles. Junior Blake Roettgen and sophomore David Murillo-Martinez also spent last season on varsity.
Deshpande was No. 3 last season.
“He’s our top returner coming back, he’s been through the season and that experience will be invaluable,” Thompson said. “He’s taken on a strong leadership role this offseason, getting all the younger kids into the YMCA this winter.”
Cooper bumped up from No. 5 last season. Murillo-Martinez will begin the season at No. 6 singles, followed by Roettgen at No. 7. However, Roettgen got most of his varsity experience last year playing doubles.
“Our top nine or 10, they all put in a lot more work this offseason compared to previous years,” Thompson said. “This year, we’ll be much deeper. Last year, we were very top-heavy. ”
Among the newcomers on the varsity lineup is freshman Arjun Garikapaty, who will begin the season at No. 1 in singles.
“He’s been playing tennis for many years,” Thompson said. “His challenge matches, and I’m anxious to see how he goes. It’s a big place to be thrown into your freshman year. ”
Another freshman, Avnith Kumar, will start at No. 4 singles.
“He’s very steady, very consistent,” Thompson said. “He really digs in and forces you to beat him, he never beats himself.”
Owen Ramelb, one of the Jays’ three seniors, follows. 5 singles.
“I can tell you the top three or four competitors that I’ve had in 10 years,” Thompson said.
There will be plenty of time for practice next month, but Thompson said junior Sam Ramelb, freshman Drew Divyakumar and sophomore Ryan Cooper will round out the top 10 with some varsity competition.
Jefferson City opens Central Missouri Activities Conference play Thursday against Capital City. The Jays will also compete in the Springfield Invitational, the Sedalia Smith-Cotton Invitational and the Edwardsville (Ill.) Duals later this month.
“I just want to see improvement and confidence,” Thompson said. “… The first couple of weeks they will see how they respond.
“We’ll get better, everybody gets better, more you play throughout the season. We’re going to go through some hills and valleys this year, but we’re going to have some good experience. ”
The Jays are in Class 2 District 5 with Camdenton, Capital City, Helias, Lebanon, Rolla and Smith-Cotton.