Waterford girls tennis coach Ken Wade figured he'd have one of his strongest teams in recent memory, but that line of thinking quickly changed on the eve of the Ravens' season.
Without warning, No. 1 singles player Kim Brunken, who finished third in the state in 2004, informed Wade she decided not to compete in tennis during her senior year.
"It was totally her decision," said Wade. "She told me she wasn't into it anymore, and as a high school senior, I can understand that. But she's a big girl."
Not that Wade's looking for sympathy, though. Without Brunken, Wade has shuffled his lineup as Waterford hopes to win its third state title in four years.
"Of course, it's frustrating," he said, "but we're past it, and I'm proud of our girls. . . .
"It gives some of my younger players a chance to play. We'll be a little down this year, but we'll be stronger next year."
After finishing just behind Rowland Hall at the Northern Division finals, the Ravens anticipate battling them again this Saturday when the 1A/2A state championships commence at Liberty Park.
Interestingly, Brunken's decision to quit has actually made Wade's job easier, at least this year. Because she freed up a varsity spot, that move opened the door for other girls down the line to claim a varsity position instead of having Wade choose between them.
"It just made the (other) decisions easier," said Wade.
That starts at No. 1 singles, where senior Liz Calder takes over the position. Calder was the No. 2 singles champ last year and figures to be in the mix of top state players, too.
Tina Haroutunian jumps from No. 3 singles, where she finished as runner-up in 2004, to second singles. Meanwhile, junior Larissa Beck will play at No. 3. Beck was the Ravens' lone individual winner at last week's region championships.
Seniors Alisha Rogers and Preeya Prakash are partnered at No. 1 doubles, and sophomores Ana Pantiledes and Brooklyn Day pair together at second doubles.
In the region final, Pantiledes inadvertently hit her partner's ear during a serve, and the injury forced the duo to withdraw from the match.
As they try to overtake Rowland Hall at state, Wade said the performance of his second doubles team will be a key part of the equation. He also said he's hoping that Calder can somehow break through at No. 1 singles.
"If Liz can take state," said Wade, "that helps us out a lot."
1A/2A state glance
The 1A/2A state championships will be played this Saturday at Liberty Park, and Rowland Hall enters the tournament as the slight favorite to capture the title.
Juan Diego won the 2004 1A/2A state title, but the Soaring Eagle has moved into 3A, opening the door for a new champion this weekend.
The Winged Lions beat Waterford 19-15 en route to the Northern Division title last weekend, and it appears they'll try to hold off the Ravens en route to the state win.
Waterford is led at singles by Liz Calder, Tina Haroutunian and Larissa Beck. Alisha Rogers and Preeya Prakash combine at first doubles, while Ana Pantiledes and Brooklyn Day are at No. 2.
Behind those two private schools, St. Joseph could be fighting for third place. The Southern Division was significantly down last year, but teams like Manti have traditionally been strong in girls tennis.