MARIETTA – Lassiter and Walton appear to be the strongest boys tennis teams in Region 4AAAAAAA going into the 2019 season, and they could be sticking around as the state playoffs wrap up.
Walton scrapped its way to the state finals last season before falling to South Forsyth. Lassiter, which had its way with Walton during region play, ran into a buzzsaw when it faced South Forsyth, the eventual state champ, in the quarterfinals.
On paper, Lassiter appears to have a leg up over its east Cobb County rival. Not only are the Trojans returning everyone from their playoff roster last season, but they beefed it up with new talent.
Senior Christian Pumpelly, a commitment to the U.S. Naval Academy, is an addition to the singles lineup, ranked No. 10 in Georgia and 51 in the Southeast in his age group by the Tennis Recruiting Network.
Liam White, a top JV player from last year, was promoted to varsity, and he and Pumpelly have joined holdovers Noah Holsclaw, Joseph Tanjuatco, Daniel Jemison, Junaid Mohammed and Kaanu Patel, who were largely responsible for Lassiter going 17-2 overall and 10-0 in Region 4AAAAAAA.
Holsclaw and Tanjuatco have already committed to play in college, with Holsclaw bound for Sewanee and Tanjuatco the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. Patel is getting interest from Georgia State, Belmont, Boston University, Elon and Miami.
“We’re going to get everyone’s best shot this year,” Lassiter coach Duane Hicks said, “so we have to be able to stay mentally tough and be strong enough to weather the storm of intense competition.”
Meanwhile, Walton had to replace three of its key players from last year -- Uros Ciric, Alejandro Moreno and Alex Helms -- and could start as many as five freshmen early in the season until a set lineup is determined.
While starting five freshmen could be a challenge, Walton has been known over the years for replacing talent with equal talent.
“I think it’s just a matter of how the young kids respond and how the returners handle themselves from last year,” Walton coach John Evans said. “It’s a matter of finding out the best option at singles and doubles. I’ve got two singles players coming back, and I have to find a third one. I have two doubles players coming back and have to find two more.”
Seniors Connor Murphy and David Phillips will likely pair up at No. 1 doubles after playing with different partners last year. Juniors Eli Ingleson and Arsal Farooq will be competing for the top two singles spots, and freshman Elias Shorky is the frontrunner to play No. 3.
“We lost a bunch of guys, but it will be fun playing with some freshmen,” Phillips said, “We’ll let them learn the game, help them out, and, hopefully, we can make another run like last year.”