AREA RANKINGS

1, Madison Edgewood

2, Madison West

3, Madison Memorial

4, Waunakee

5, Sun Prairie

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH

Crusaders reload: Madison Edgewood is coming off a 19-0 season, including a 7-0 victory over Stevens Point Pacelli in the WIAA Division 2 team state championship match. The Crusaders were ranked No. 1 in the state coaches’ poll all year. This year, Edgewood has graduated its top three singles players (Emma Sango, Jessica Inman and Brita Hovde) and No. 1 doubles team (Abby Fox and Maddie Molitor). The back-to-back defending state team champs will rely on junior Kinsey Kessel along with the Drake sisters, Grace (senior) and Lizzie (sophomore), to lead the bid for a third consecutive title. Other returning varsity players will be Claire Stein and Julia Hess. At the helm will be new coach Alex Mory, who has taken over for last year’s interim head coach, Jamey Vorlander.

Badger newcomers: As WIAA realignment relocates Watertown to the Badger South Conference and Beaver Dam to the Badger North, league competition is expected to receive a boost. Both teams return their No. 1 singles players: Beaver Dam sophomore Morgan Nelson and Watertown senior Ricki Budewitz. Both players qualified for the Division 1 state individual tournament last year. “The last few years, Watertown has had some strong teams,” Waunakee head coach Chris Nuenthel said. “(The two teams) will make our Badger Conference that much stronger.”

Lots of experience: In a deep and always competitive conference, the Big Eight returns 16 of the 20 players who captured first- or second-place flight finishes in last year’s conference tournament.

Cardinals rising: Sun Prairie returns defending Big Eight No. 1 singles champion Lats Sysouvanh and No. 3 singles champ Katie Tews to a team that finished third in the conference meet and conference dual rankings. Second-year coach Chris Wilke expects his Cardinals to contend for the Big Eight title this year. “We have some very talented tennis players and tremendous leaders returning, and we look to build on the success of the past few seasons,” Wilke said. “Sun Prairie tennis is in a very good place.” Also included in the Cardinals’ goals is a third consecutive trip to the WIAA Division 1 team state tournament.

Darkhorses emerge: Last year’s Badger Conference tournament went down the wire between perennial powerhouse Madison Edgewood and Waunakee. Edgewood, which has won the last eight Badger South titles, and Waunakee, winner of the last seven Badger North crowns, were neck-and-neck until Emma Sango’s No. 1 singles victory gave the Crusaders the outright title. This year, Monona Grove expects to compete alongside the Badger’s top teams, and Watertown’s arrival could shake up the usual mix. “We should have a competitive team that should challenge for the conference title. We have a great deal of depth and experience,” Silver Eagles coach John Willauer said. “Edgewood is the perennial favorite in the South,” Watertown coach Andy Dobbins said, “but Monona Grove will be very solid this season and I think they can challenge them.”

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Amanda Newman, sr., and Hailey Munz, so., Monona Grove: Newman and Munz teamed up last year to place seventh in doubles at the WIAA Division 1 individual state tournament. They will compete either at No. 1 and 2 singles, or together in the No. 1 doubles flight, for the Silver Eagles this season. “It is not official that we will be playing doubles this upcoming season,” Munz said. “But if were were lucky enough to play doubles, our goal would be to win the sectional and hopefully get a seed at state once again.”

Lats Sysouvanh, sr., Sun Prairie: The defending No. 1 Big Eight singles champion enters the season with high expectations. Sysouvanh has competed at Division1 individual state each of the last two years. Last year, she went 28-4 overall and advanced to the quarterfinals before falling to Stoughton’s Sarah Benoy. Sysouvanh will serve as a co-captain of the this year’s team, along with fellow senior Katie Tews.

Laura Nicholas, sr., Madison West: Nicholas and fellow senior Hoi Ming Lee McVey put together a stellar 2016 season, winning the Big Eight No. 1 doubles title in a match that clinched Madison West’s team conference championship and advancing to the round of 16 in the Division 1 individual state tournament to finish 18-7. But Lee McVey sustained an injury prior to the season and Nicholas will enter this season with a new partner.

Mandy Schuster, sr., Waunakee: Schuster solidified herself as Waunakee’s No. 1 singles player last year, posting a 19-14 record and qualifying for Division 1 state. “After a season of playing No. 1 for the first time last year, I’d expect she’s ready to take a step up and play our tough schedule at No. 1 again,” coach Chris Nuenthel said.

Ricki Budewitz, sr., Watertown: Budewitz enters the Badger South after earning first-team all-Wisconsin Little Ten Conference honors and qualifying for Division 1 individual state last season, finishing 10-12. “Ricki is incredibly quick and consistent, and can wear down her opponents,” Watertown coach Andy Dobbins said. “She has worked hard in the off-season and added more power and spin to her groundstrokes. I’m excited to watch what she can do.”

Meredith Conley, so., Verona: Conley qualified for Division 1 individual state at No. 1 singles as a freshman last year, finishing 15-10. She also finished third in the Big Eight tournament.

Cecile Fuchs, so., DeForest: Fuchs was the lone freshman named to the 2016 Wisconsin State Journal/WisconsinPrepZone.com all-area second-team and will compete as the No. 1 singles player for DeForest this year. She qualified for Division 1 individual state last season and finished 21-6.

Grace Olson, so., Madison Memorial: Olson qualified for the Division 1 individual state as a freshman last year and earned all-area honorable mention, going 23-7.

Kai Heineman, jr., Middleton: Heineman was named a second-team all-area player, finishing with a 17-12 record, and will be an integral part of an always dangerous Cardinal team.

Julia Zhou, so., Madison Memorial: Zhou showed promise in her first season with the Spartans and was named all-area honorable mention, going 20-1 at No. 3 singles.

CONFERENCE BREAKDOWNS

BIG EIGHT

Madison West looks to defend its conference title after graduating first-team all-area selection Karolina Lungova and starting this season without the injured Hoi Ming Lee McVey. The Regents will rely heavily on seniors Laura Nicholas and Ellie Kaji while managing its depth in a bid for back-to-back titles.

Madison Memorial brings back their top three singles players; junior Ingrid Goldstrand, sophomore Grace Olson, and sophomore Julia Zhou from a team that finished fourth in the conference after pulling Olson and Zhou from their conference championship matches to rest for subsectionals. “We have a lot of experience returning from last year’s team and look forward to competing for the top spot in the conference,” Spartans coach Joseph King said.

Sun Prairie looks to make a jump in the 2017 season, returning sectional champions Lats Sysouvanh and Katie Tews. The Cardinals have won back-to-back Lake Geneba Badger sectional championships, but have their eyes set on the Big Eight crown this year. “The Big Eight is tough, but we look to be one of the top teams in 2017,” head coach Chris Wilke said. “The girls have been putting in the work during the off-season.” Sun Prairie will welcome promising freshman Lauren Hope Bruemmer to the lineup.

After a fifth-place finish, Verona coach Mark Happel enters his 14th season hoping to stay in the top five of a very talented conference. The Wildcats return their top four singles players, led by Meredith Conley, and their top three doubles pairings, led by Meghan Anderson and Eve Parker.

Middleton, last year’s runner-up, had won five consecutive Big Eight league titles from 2010 to 2014 before being dethroned by Sun Prairie in 2015 and Madison West in 2016. Senior Kai Heineman and juniors Maddie Clark and Michelle Chi highlight a gifted Cardinals team.

BADGER

At Madison Edgewood, first-year coach Alex Mory will inherit an extremely successful program that has won back-to-back Division 2 state championships. But with the loss of five seniors, the Crusaders will have their work cut out for them to earn a ninth consecutive Badger South Conference title. Grace Drake, Claire Stein, Kinsey Kessel, Lizzie Drake, and Julia Hess will return from last year’s varsity team.

Waunakee had a string of three straight overall Badger titles snapped by Madison Edgewood last fall. The Warriors return six varsity players and are again seen as a strong title challenger. “I expect our team will have some great depth, which will help against really good teams,” coach Chris Nuenthel said. “Once we get comfortable with our positions, we just compete hard and leave it all on the court.” State qualifiers Mandy Schuster (singles) and Olivia Austria-Kemble (doubles) will return. McKenzie Kalscheur and Sierra Bauer have been doubles partners since freshman year. Last year, they teamed up to win the Badger Conference title at No. 3 doubles. Nuenthel expects to promote them to No. 2 doubles and says their smart play will be integral to the Warriors’ success.

DeForest coach Kristin Pachal was pleased with her team's strong showing last year. The Norskies finished in second in Badger North Conference duals and freshman Cecile Fuchs reached individual state in a tough sectional. This year, freshman Samantha Fuchs will join her sister, along with Audrey Williams and Leah Miller, in the singles lineup. DeForest will also bring back the doubles team of Melissa and Dianna Xiong.”Although we lost some experience, we have quite a few returning players,” Pachal said. “I am looking forward to a successful season.”

Watertown will enter its first Badger Conference season with plenty of unknowns, but the talent level of coach Andy Dobbins’ Goslings is crystal clear. Watertown advanced No. 1 singles player Ricki Budewitz and the No. 1 doubles team of Jenna Koepp and Emily Choinski to Division 1 state last season. Choinski has graduated but Koepp, a two-time state qualifier, will enter her junior season looking for a new partner and a return to the big show. “We should be strong at the top of our lineup,” Dobbins said. “We will (also) look for a group of new varsity players to step up and fill out the rest of our lineup.”

At Fort Atkinson, senior captains Kastyn Hebbe and Stephanie Sykes are expected to lead the Blackhawks. “We are focused to try and move up the conference ranking from where we finished last season,” coach Mike DeRubeis said.

KEY DATES

REGULAR SEASON

Aug. 12: Dane County Invitational at Ahuska Park, Monona, and Madison La Follette. Eight Dane County teams compete for bragging rights to open the season.

Aug. 18-19: Spartan Invitational at Madison Memorial and elsewhere. Annual powers such as Hartland Arrowhead, Mequon Homestead and Whitefish Bay take on Madison Memorial, Madison West, Middleton, Verona and Waunakee at various area courts.

Sept. 5: Stoughton Invitational: The Vikings join locals Madison East, Madison La Follette, Middleton and Oregon and welcome Brookfield Central, Kenosha St. Joseph and Walworth Big Foot.

Sept. 8-9: Sweet Sixteen Invitational at Glendale Nicolet and Whitefish Bay, 1 p.m. Sixteen of the state’s most historically successful programs will gather for a two-day tournament that always provides intense competition.

Sept. 15-16: Big Eight-Badger Challenge, hosted by Madison Memorial. Big Eight teams Madison Memorial, Madison West, Sun Prairie and Verona battle Badger participants DeForest, Oregon, Stoughton and Waunakee in a series of dual meets at various courts in the area.

CONFERENCE TOURNAMENTS

Sept. 21: Rock Valley Conference tournament at Jefferson.

Sept. 22-23: Badger Conference tournament at Nielsen Tennis Stadium, 9 a.m. both days.

Sept. 23: Capitol Conference tournament at Lodi.

Sept. 27-28: Big Eight Conference tournament at Nielsen, 9:30 a.m. Sept.27 and 2 p.m. Sept. 28.

WIAA POSTSEASON

Subsectionals: Oct. 2 and 3, various locations.

Sectionals: Oct. 4 and 5, various locations.

Individual state: Oct. 12-14 at Nielsen.

Team state: Oct. 20-21 at Nielsen.

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