The new tennis season has Lodi High School boys tennis coach John Stroh excited.
Stroh, in his sixth year, said the Flames have their best team in three or four seasons.
But will that be enough to knock off perennial powerhouse and defending San Joaquin Athletic Association champion Lincoln?
"I think we have a shot, but it will take us playing our best tennis," Stroh said. "Lincoln is the favorite. They have a lot of returning guys, plus three or four freshmen that can play."
Among Lincoln's returnees is Steve Oechel, the two-time league singles champion.
Led by Oechel, the Trojans handed the Flames two of their three SJAA losses last year. Lodi finished second with an 11-3 record.
Tokay struggled last year, going 5-9 and placing sixth in league standings.
First-year coach Pete Flanders has six returnees from that team and is hoping to infuse some youth into the mix.
"I'll rely on my seniors to get me up to date about the league," said Flanders, adding that he plans to get the freshmen on the team as much experience as possible this season.
Stroh said Lodi's depth is what makes the Flames a contender this year.
The team had only seven players turn out two years ago, but that number increased to 20 players this season, he said.
Mitch Hanner, the runner-up to Oechel in the SJAA singles finals the last two years, is locked in as the Flames' No. 1 starter. After that, nothing is certain, Stroh said.
Danny Miladinovich, who played in the No. 2 slot last year, Roman Ranke and Jack Zeck will battle for the remaining two singles spots.
Ranke is a foreign exchange student from Germany and Zeck is a freshman. "We have four solid singles players. We'll probably switch around some," Stroh said.
Michael Hopps, Dustin Lewis, Jeff Machado, Chad Marchand, Matt Rosenberg, Chris Stanley and Priit Valtu return this year and, along with first-year player Julian Castillo, will vie for a spot on the two doubles teams.
At Tokay, Cliff Sutherland is back as the No. 1 singles player with Tom Woelful returning in the No. 2 slot. Allan Ishihara, who played doubles last year, will fill the final singles spot.
Rajan Patel and Mike Navone will once again make up the No. 1 doubles team, with Matt Shook and freshmen Ricky Gill, Tyler Sinclair and Cedric Cuturan battling for a spot on the final doubles team.
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