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TRM tennis enters season with youth, inexperience

By By BRUCE HIXON Sports Editor
Most members of this year's T.R. Miller High School tennis team are probably not old enough to remember the ABC sitcom "Growing Pains."
That is O.K. Both the Lady Tigers and Tigers will be able to write their own versions this season with rosters full of youth and inexperience.
"In all reality, it's going to be a rebuilding year for both teams," T.R. Miller coach Tracie Whigham said. "At the same time I'm hoping we can be a competitive team, especally by the end of the season after our players get a chance to develop and improve their skills."
Both squads are coming off highly successful 2003 campaigns. The Lady Tigers lost just one match, while the Tigers dropped only two. Thanks to graduation, both of this season's teams bare little resmblance to those squads.
As far as experience is concerned, the Lady Tigers are a little better off than their male counterparts. They return two players, sophomores Grace Miller and Catherine Stokes. A bigger problem for the T.R. Miller girls is their roster contains only the minimum six players.
"There is no competition for spots in the lineup. There will be competition within the lineup, but we don't have anybody to push the players to keep those spots," Whigham said. "The other bad thing about having only six players is we have to keep everybody healthy because they will have to play every match."
Based on experience, it is no surprise the two returning players, Stokes and Miller, figure to anchor the number one and two spots in the lineup.
Stokes is expected to take that number one spot into Tuesday's season opener against W.S. Neal, while Miller will probably play number two.
"They are our clear number one and two players right now. They are both strong players. Catherine has good placement with her hits. This is the second year for Grace in the program and she has improved a lot," Whigham said.
The number three through six spots remain to be decided. However, the players who fill those spots all have something in common.
"They're all first-year players," Whigham said.
That list includes juniors Melissa Padgett, Natalie Scherrer and Leah Crawford along with freshman Kara Smith.
"Kara and Leah are both lefthanded so that could give them a little bit of an advantage. Lefthanded players tend to hit with a little bit different angle than righthanded players and sometimes that gives opposing players some trouble. Melissa has improved a lot in a short time. I think Natalie can be an aggressive player," Whigham said. "The problem for first-year players, especially older players, is they have to start from scratch. They've got a lot to learn in a short amount of time."
In terms of numbers, the Tigers are a little bit better off with seven players on their roster. As young and inexperienced as the T.R. Miller girls are, the Tigers are even more so.
The T.R. Miller boys return just one player, sophomore Hayes Martin. Their roster contains three freshmen and two eighth grade players along with the lone senior for either team, Rhett Joyner.
"Five of the seven boys are either in eighth grade or freshmen so we are really young. We could have some growing pains this season," Whigham said. "On a good note, it gives us a good building block for the future if these boys will stay with the program."
Martin has used his experience to move into the number one spot going into the season.
"I think Hayes can be a very competitive player for us. He had a good season last year as a freshman. He has pretty good placement with his hits and he has developed a good serve," Whigham said.
The lone senior, Joyner, is expected to start the season at number two.
"I think Rhett can be an aggressive and strong player for us, especially as the season goes along," Whigham said.
Like the girls, the remaining four spots in the boys lineup remains unsettled. Freshmen Karl Kast, Stephen Neal and Mitchell McMillan along with eighth graders Logan Rush and Marshall Bracken will battle for those spots.
"Both Karl and Logan missed a couple of weeks due to spring football so they are a little behind at this point. Marshall, Stephen and Mitchell are making progress in their games so I'm hoping they can develop into good players with more experience," Whigham said. "Our young players could get a little intimidated playing juniors and seniors early on, but I'm hoping after a match or two they will be able to put that behind them."
T.R. Miller High School
Tennis Schedule
Mar. 2 W.S. Neal Home 3:30 p.m.
Mar. 9 Bayside Academy Home 4 p.m.
Mar. 15 W.S. Neal Home 3:30 p.m.
Mar. 16 Andalusia Home 3:30 p.m.
Mar. 30 Opp Away 4:30 p.m.
Apr. 5 Opp Home 4 p.m.
Apr. 6 W.S. Neal Home 3:30 p.m.
Apr. 15 Greenville Home 4:30 p.m.
Apr. 19 Girls Sectional at Dothan
Apr. 22 Boys Sectional at Daphne