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Girls tennis: Toppers looking to repeat

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By Mike Cote

Mum’s the word.There are plenty of reasons to be excited about the Los Alamos Hilltopper girls tennis team this season. Just don’t bring it up.“The first thing the girls said to me was ‘don’t tell us we’re favored,’” head coach Bruce Cottrell said.Like it or not, Los Alamos will be on the shortest of short lists in 2008 to challenge for a state Class AAAA title.In 2007, Los Alamos stunned Albuquerque Academy in the state championship final, 5-4, to win its first team title since 2004.This season, the Hilltoppers will have almost everyone back from that team, and expectations are running high, especially considering AAAA runner-up Academy, which was the top-seeded team at state last May, lost seven of its top 10 to graduation.To say Los Alamos has experience coming back is something of an understatement.“This is the oldest team I’ve had in 15 years,” Cottrell said of his senior-laden team, adding that “the other five I have that aren’t seniors are very good.”Going into this season, the Hilltoppers’ biggest problem may be that they have more good players than they have spots to put them. Their lineup, which is filled with players that have been in the program since they were eighth-graders, could go through some juggling so that everyone gets in and gets a chance to perform.It’s a problem most teams would love to have, but there’s a wrinkle this season that the Hilltoppers were unhappy about. Lineups for the state team tournament are due to the New Mexico Activities Association by April 20, nearly three weeks before the tournament’s start.Cottrell said he thought the new rule was silly.“Can you imagine a baseball team or a softball team having to submit its lineup three weeks before state, and they couldn’t change it?” he said.But Los Alamos should have plenty of margin of error.Among the returners for the Hilltoppers are Jeena Kim and Grace Kim, who played No. 1 and No. 2 singles last season. Brenna O’Hara, who played in the state tournament in the fifth slot, will move up to the three position, followed by Megan Townsley in at No. 4.Chelsea Smith and Lauren Castro were slated for the No. 5 and No. 6 singles going into the season-opening Carlsbad Invitational, which started today.Emma Myers, who was paired with Townsley at state last season and was a big part of Los Alamos’ upset of Academy, will be paired with Jeena Kim at No. 1 doubles. Grace Kim and Elise Dinehart will start at No. 2 doubles and Elyse Jalbert and Townsley will go at No. 3 doubles.Los Alamos has plenty of solid reserves as well, including Noopur Goyal, Desta Shelley and Stephanie Koch.While the Hilltoppers are in an enviable position, Academy still looms despite its graduation losses, Farmington usually fields a solid club, Taos has improved considerably and may challenge Los Alamos at the District 2AAAA tournament May 2, and Goddard has gotten some early-season buzz in the southern part of the state.Cottrell said he’s not worried about much beyond this weekend, however. He’d like to see his team play better against a good Class AAAAA Carlsbad squad than it did in 2007.“Head to head, that tournament was disappointing,” he said. “Hopefully, we’ll play them strong in doubles and show them what we’re made of.”Among other teams scheduled to play this weekend are Clovis, Hobbs and teams from Texas.