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LA has some key components back

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By Mike Cote

It might take some time for the Los Alamos Hilltopper boys tennis team to see exactly how things might play out.

But with a good nucleus returning, Los Alamos is hoping things will play out well enough to make another run in the state tournament.

Los Alamos will be looking to make its third straight state Class AAAA final in 2009. It gets into the teeth of its schedule starting Saturday at Rio Rancho.

The spring preseason workouts, which started officially Feb. 2, have been generally good for the Hilltoppers.

The Hilltoppers officially opened the season last month at the El Paso Americas Invitational, which head coach Giri Raichur said was an eye-opening experience for the squad.

His players, top-to-bottom, didn’t come out firing the way he was hoping at the tournament, something they’ll have to do as the season progresses in order to get back to the level they’ve been playing at for the last several years.

“The last couple of years, we’ve had the luxury of depth,” Raichur said. “Our top eight or nine were pretty strong. Now we’re limited to our top five or six. Four (junior varsity) players have moved up to varsity. There’s talent there, it’s a matter of them getting experience.”

Los Alamos will have its top two singles players returning from last season. Patrick Raichur, who advanced to the AAAA singles semifinals as a sophomore, will be back for his junior year in 2009, as will No. 2 Matt Whicker.

The Hilltoppers lost two key seniors to graduation, however, No. 3 single Avery Colby and No. 6 Jason Grider. Grider was the only player to take a match against the 2008 champion Albuquerque Academy in the teams’ final, while Colby and Whicker teamed up to advance to the AAAA doubles semifinals.

In 2008, Patrick Raichur was dealing with a nagging right shoulder injury and had surgery during the off-season. Although the shoulder still has flare-ups, coach Raichur said it should improve as the season progresses.

Ben Havemann will likely go into the No. 3 singles slot this season, while Chase Havemann could move up to No. 4. The Havemanns, however, just returned this week from playing hockey this winter and will likely need time to get back up to speed.

Stephen Townsley had a solid 2008 season as an eighth-grader and will also be back this season.

For the players moving up from JV, such as senior Kent Ly and sophomore Eli Berg, they’re being asked to set challenging but attainable goals and do self-assessments on whether those goals are being met.

“It’s something they have control of,” Raichur said. “It makes it easier for them in terms of assessing their success.”

In AAAA, Academy is once again heading into the seasons as the team to beat. Farmington has some quality players that will need to be dealt with and Raichur said he’s going to keep his eye on Volcano Vista, which he’s heard could be a factor in the classification.

The Academy Chargers are hosting a Class AAAA-heavy tournament April 10-11 which could well be a big determinant in how state teams are seeded for state.

“As far as I’m concerned, it’s a preview to how things are going to look at state,” Raichur said.

Prior to the Academy tournament, Raichur said he’s interested in seeing how Los Alamos fares at next week’s Carlsbad Invitational, in which it struggled last season against big-school competition.