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Golden Racket

Kelly Walsh's Finley Klinger returns the ball to Natrona County's Alexis Holscher during their No. 1 singles match in the Golden Racket last year at the Casper Country Club.

Wyoming’s young tennis talent has only gotten better over the years, giving way to an intriguing upcoming high school season. Even though it’s shortened with only about five weeks between opening matches and the state tournament, there’s plenty to keep an eye on.

Practices started on Monday and the weather cooperated. That should remain the case for the next couple weeks, at that point rescheduling could become a coin flip. Once again, the state tournament has been scheduled to escape the unpredictable Wyoming weather at the impressive indoor tennis complex in Gillette.

As always, one classification means that the best will truly win when competitors get that far.

Here’s just a few of the storylines to watch on the courts this fall:

It’s a Lock

This is going to be the swan song season for Cheyenne South standout Brendan Lock. He burst onto the scene as a freshman before ultimately falling to Gillette’s Dawson Miessler in the championship match. Lock came back the next season, and in a rematch, beat Miessler in three sets to win gold. He defended that gold last season by cruising through the tournament, facing his strongest test in the final set and coming away victorious 7-5.

So how does this young tennis rock star handle the urgency of a senior season? Not only is Lock looking toward the prospects of a fourth consecutive championship match, he carries a 40-match winning streak into this season’s opening set. He’s been actively recruited by schools across the country and could make his decision shortly. He’ll garner attention at No. 1 singles everywhere he goes this season.

Anyone’s race

Last year’s boys team standings ended in a remarkable tie between Cheyenne Central and Jackson. That had never happened before. In fact, it was the only time any team other than Gillette or Laramie stood atop the team standings since Natrona County’s championship team in 2005. To be fair, Gillette wasn’t far behind Central and Jackson’s 35 points last year, finishing with a cumulative 32. Laramie finished in a tie for fourth with 27 points.

So which team would be considered the favorite to stand atop the podium come late September? Gillette graduated just two seniors — its champion No. 1 Doubles team — from last year’s squad. Laramie graduated a chunk, but its big squad from last season could mean big things for this year. Central could be on the inside track, graduating just two off its deep-scoring roster from last year. Jackson also graduated just two, its No. 1 singles standout and half of its No. 1 doubles team. So this should be interesting.

Tribe called best

There’s little doubt that the Cheyenne Central girls team enters this fall as the favorite to win a third consecutive state championship. All of Central’s state champions from last year — No. 2 singles, No. 2 and No. 3 doubles — return this year. The Tribe only graduated its No. 1 singles player and half of its No. 1 doubles team. That makes a tall order for any prospective challenger.

It’s not entirely clear at this point who Central’s strongest challenger is. Kelly Walsh put a scare into Central initially, only to drop a few crucial matches throughout the state tournament. That little opening was all that Central needed. The Trojans will have a younger team this year and take more of a rebuilding approach, if only for the start of the campaign. And the Tribe finished well above any other team to close 2018.

Second lap

One of the most exciting additions to last year’s tennis season was the introduction of Kelly Walsh’s Finley Klinger. The freshman immediately gelled with her new teammates and found her way to No. 1 singles, where she surprised the competition. Klinger entered the state tournament as the No. 1 seed before falling in three sets to eventual state champion Alli Hays. Klinger came back to win the consolation bracket.

That sets the stage for an interesting sophomore season. Remember, Klinger joined the Trojans’ cross country team at the conclusion of the tennis season and went on to finish second at the state meet. During that season she said she planned to continue playing both sports as long as the WHSAA’s current rule stands. She takes all that, plus the confidence of a silver medal from track season, into her sophomore year.

Cody rebuild

Last year’s girls tennis team was one of wonder for Cody. Full of standouts, the squad went to the state tournament and stood toe-to-toe with the state’s best before finishing third with 41 points. Central had 54, Kelly Walsh had 47 and the next-closest team to Cody was 20 points away. So while the Fillies gave it a challenging run, finishing 11-1 in the dual season, they fell short of winning the program’s first championship since 2002. But maybe this is the year.

Cody will miss three valuable components to last year’s team, but an impressive amount of talent returns. No. 2 singles runner-up Teagan Thompson is likely to move into the No. 1 singles role. The state championship No. 1 doubles team of Maddy Icenogle and Simona Wambeke returns, as does the junior team of Schutzman and Morales. They all make Cody a team to watch this year, and possibly a state title contender.

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Follow sports reporter Brady Oltmans on Twitter @BradyOltmans

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High School Sports Reporter

Brady Oltmans reports on high school and local sports. He joined the Star-Tribune in July 2016 after covering prep sports and college soccer in Nebraska. He also contributes to University of Wyoming sports coverage. He and his dog live in Casper.

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