McNary’s Ariana Neads returns a volley from a ball machine in practice Tuesday, March 11. (KEIZERTIMES/Eric A. Howald)

McNary’s Ariana Neads returns a volley from a ball machine in practice Tuesday, March 11. (KEIZERTIMES/Eric A. Howald)

Of the Keizertimes

The McNary High School girls varsity tennis team lost seven players to graduation last June, but there’s lots of promise and one returning state contender back on the court this season.

“We’re going to be really strong at the top of singles and doubles and really inexperienced at the bottom as we get started,” said Mark Kohley, McNary head coach.

Included in the ranks this season is junior Sandy Childress, who made it to the state tournament as part of a doubles team with Alex Henriques da Silva, a German exchange student. Kohley said Childress’s game is stronger than ever this season, and she’ll be leading off singles matches.

“She’s to the point where she’s playing with the top boys,” Kohley said. “Her game is probably 50 percent better than it was last season because she’s been putting in the work.”

Junior Rachel Morrow will likely be the Lady Celts No. 2 singles player and Taslima Siddhu will probably take the No. 3 slot.

In doubles pairings, team co-captains Megan Thompson and Katie Stignei, the team’s only seniors, will be taking over the No. 1 spot.

“It’s our first time to play together in doubles and it will be the first time we get to combine skills and work it out on the court,” Thompson said. Thompson won the singles consolation bracket at the district tournament last year. Stignei made it to the quarterfinals in singles competition.

Ariana Neads and Sami Trowbridge, who won the consolation bracket at the district tournament in 2013, are looking to attain greater heights this season.

“They’re hungry for big success, they liked that fifth place medal and they want one a little higher,” Kohley said.

Neads and Trowbridge overcame a Sprague High School team that beat them twice during the regular season to claim the fifth-place spot.

“In the middle there is some new blood coming up from JV, like Katherine Peterson  and Cambria Ruston, who are going to have a lot of success because they’re very competitive,” Kohley said.

While some seasoned talent will be making a return, the roster is getting refreshed with new and up-and-coming talents this year.

“There’s a lot of new people this year and a lot of freshmen joining the team,” Stignei said. “But a few of them also got to play with the junior varsity team last year.”

Thompson hoped some planned team bonding would help the Lady Celts get to know each other better and parley that into enthusiasm on the courts.

“A lot of people see tennis as an individual sport, but I’d like us to have a united front,” she said.

Last season, the girls tennis team got off to a blazing start, one of the best in recent years. Continuing at that level will put a lot of players to the test.

“We are going to have to communicate with each other and stay away from the mind games that distract us,” Stignei said.

The Lady Celts host their first match of the season with Silverton High School Tuesday, March 18. Game time is 3:30 p.m.