Created:Sunday, April 6, 2014 6:18 p.m.CDT
Updated:Thursday, May 15, 2014 11:30 a.m.CDT
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Jacobs tennis loaded at top of lineup

Kyle Grillot - kgrillot@shawmedia.com Jacobs Kailash Panchapakesan hits a return during the Fox Valley Conference tennis match Saturday at Crystal Lake Central. (Kyle Grillot)

Jacobs boys tennis player Kailash Panchapakesan had one major goal after a successful freshman season last year – improve his serve.

Panchapakesan, the Northwest Herald Player of the Year in 2013, looks to have done just that. The improvement was more mental than physical, although Panchapakesan has gotten stronger. He simply was not keeping his eye on the ball during his service.

“I tossed [the ball] up and looked at it, but then not when I hit it,” Panchapakesan said.

Golden Eagles coach Jon Betts said an improved service will help Panchapakesan’s already strong groundstroke game.

“The deeper into a point [Panchapakesan] gets, the better he gets,” Betts said. “He can hit with anyone in the state.”

First-year Prairie Ridge coach Jim Benson, who coached Jacobs last season, agrees.

“I think Kailash should be top 16 this year (at state),” Benson said. “He’s serving way better.”

Jacobs is loaded at the top of its lineup but will need to replace the top four doubles players from last year’s team. Sophomore Kendrick Chong, at No. 2 singles, last year qualified for state, where he won two matches.

“It’s been a big loss; we’ve really got to develop doubles,” Betts said.

Another sophomore, Riley Rowan, moves from No. 3 singles to No. 1 doubles this season and will partner with junior Matt Toomire. Although Rowan still prefers singles, the move was a pragmatic one – only the top two singles players and doubles teams get to play at sectionals and possibly state.

“It’s just a waste of [Rowan’s] ability to play at three singles,” Betts said. “He and Toomire have some solid potential.”

Panchapakesan, Chong and Rowan all worked hard during the offseason and each has wins against the other two during the summer. Each of them having a different style of play makes for good practice partners, Betts said.

“It’s great having them hit with each other,” Betts said. “They’re pushing each other in areas they need to work on.”

Rowan and Toomire, who played No. 3 doubles last year, think they will meld into a good doubles team more quickly because they are friends off the court.

“It helps a lot,” Rowan said.

“It makes a better team,” Toomire added.

Their confidence is pretty high already.

”I think we’re a pretty good team already,” Toomire said. “Hopefully, we’ll make it to state.”

Benson knows that to beat his old team, he’s going to need strong performances throughout his lineup.

“It’s definitely going to be tough to compete against [Jacobs'] one and two (singles players),” Benson said. “If we can beat Jacobs. it’s going to be based on our depth.”

Fortunately, Benson is pretty confident in his depth, especially at doubles. Danny VanBosch returns as a state qualifier in doubles last year, but Benson said he has four or five players who are capable of playing in the top doubles positions.

“Our doubles are strong,” Benson said. “I think we can be competitive against anyone in our conference.”

The Wolves also return senior Ryan Kohl at No. 1 singles. Kohl qualified for state in doubles as a freshman and in singles as a sophomore. Benson said he thinks Kohl can be competitive in the Fox Valley Conference and, hopefully, make a return to state.

“We’re working on developing weapons,” Benson said. “I want [Kohl] putting balls away.”

Hampshire returns state qualifiers Elisha Hougland, Jake Dahlberg and Chad West. Hougland won the FVC Meet at No. 1 singles, and Dahlberg and West went to state in doubles.

Whip-Purs coach Bill Jepsen said Hougland came into the season ready to compete.

“[Hougland] looks very confident and seems to have a better court awareness,” Jepsen said. “His game definitely looks more solid.”

Also returning as a state qualifier is McHenry’s Nick Higgin, who went to state in doubles last season.