It has been a while since the Suburban One League Continental Conference has been up for grabs, but this spring a first-time singles champion will be crowned.
North Penn's Mike Buxbaum won four straight singles titles and capped of his career with a PIAA Class AAA championship last season. With Buxbaum gone, several locals are eyeing the prize.
At Pennridge, it is senior Chandat Phan's time to flourish. His brother Chanton Phan played No. 1 singles last season and finished second in the conference and is now playing at Rider.
Phan takes over as the Rams' leader and best chance to claim a singles championship. He tries to do so with a new coach by his side. After a decade, Darcy Rabenda is now running Delaware Valley College's tennis program. In steps former girls assistant Frank Flanagan.
"Darcy and I sat down and talked about the plan for Pennridge and it kind of made sense," Flanagan said. "Now I am the head coach for both. Chandat is one of better singles players in the conference. I feel his motivation and leadership is huge. He is taking charge and been more of a vocal player. His mental game is extremely tough and that is huge in the tougher matches."
Flanagan, who played four years of varsity tennis at Sun Valley High School and is currently ranked on the USTA circuit, thinks Phan has a chance to put together a special season for the Rams. But he truthfully does not know what the rest of the conference will look like. For that matter, neither does the most veteran coach.
"Unless someone has a cracker jack freshman I don't know about I think Chandat is the favorite," North Penn coach Toby Watton said. "Central Bucks South has an overall solid team. We are a team in transition, but notice I did not use the word rebuild. I lost four, but it's where you lose them. I lost the state champion and now three, five and seven become one, two, and three."
Watton will be playing without Buxbaum and his strong second singles player this season Ethan Borochaner. Their graduation catapults Chris Mullen into the top spot. There could be pressure taking the place of the defending state champ, but coach Watton is pleased with the conversations the two have had during the offseason. He believes his mindset is right and Mullen is ready to have a strong season.
"Mullen has accepted the fact that there are no expectations and you tend to do better than you should with that mindset," Watton said. "He has improved each year and I like his mental outlook. He is happy to be one, he has earned it, and he thinks he can compete with Phan and (Sean) Kimball from CB East."
The Knights pair off a few new doubles teams this season and it could end up being a few freshman that make the difference between a conference championship and a middle-of-the-pack bunch.
Souderton, too, feels they have some promising freshman in Evan Delp along with others. Central Bucks West has a pair of freshman — Brad and Dale Johnson — that are ones to watch.
"North Penn had 60 kids come out and some really good freshman," Flanagan said. "We have been pretty good against Souderton and Quakertown, but we are waiting to see what North Penn and Central Bucks East really have."
Players such as Unionville's Johnny Wu and Conestoga's Brian Grodecki are the favorite to fill Buxbaum's state title crown, but before anyone from this area can cross that bridge, they need to get comfortbale in their local surroundings. A snowy winter has slowed down the start for everybody, but somebody has to emerge as the team to beat. Only time will tell who that will be.
"Our main goal is to put together a conference championship team," Flanagan said. "That is something Darcy thought was possible with this team. I am gearing up and thinking the same thing."
Coach: Cody Powis (second season)
Last Year: 1-14 (0-7 Bicentennial Athletic League)
Notable Losses: Ray Kauffman
Key Returners: SENIOR — Simon Nam; JUNIOR — David Lee; SOPHOMORE - Chris Sangiuliano
Others to Watch: SENIORS - Austin Kratz, Seth Strickland, Landon Leinbach
Strengths: The Pioneers are pleased with their doubles play and match experience.
Question marks: Powis is still looking for a leader to arise from the group.
Overall Outlook: The Pioneers return almost the entire starting lineup and they believe they can surprise some people and do some great things.
Central Bucks West
Coach: Frank Mancini (third season)
Last Year: 8-8 (3-3 Suburban One League Continental Conference)
Notable Losses: Tal Botnar, Adrian Scales. Jon Keiles, David Lee
Key Returners: SENIORS — Mike Needleman, Mike Natto
Others to Watch: FRESHMAN — Brad Johnson, Dale Johnson
Strengths: The Bucks are comprised of players who hate to lose and their strong work ethic shows that determination to win off every time they take the courts.
Question Marks: The question is how will the newcomers adjust to the varisty level. The Bucks only return to players from last year's team.
Overall Outlook: Coach Mancini is excited to watch his team grow this season and especially two talented freshmen Brad and Dale Johnson. The two youngsters come in as the top two singles players.
Coach: Marjie Elliott (second season)
Notable Losses: San Jung O, Eric Eccleston, Andrew Toro
Key Returners: SENIORS — Alex Santori, Denny Jung, John Rogers, James Sweirduk
Others to Watch: SOPHOMORE — C.J. Urbanek
Strengths: The Crusaders come to the court everyday ready to learn.
Question Marks: Who will end up where on the ladder and which two players work together well? These questions are still yet to be answered.
Overall outlook: The Crusaders just want to be competitive in the challenging Philadelphia Catholic League
Coach: Toby Watton (45th season)
Last Year: 8-7 (6-1 SOL Continental)
Notable Losses: Mike Buxbaum (PIAA AAA champion), Ethan Borochaner, Gabe Florest, Dan Tsai
Key Returners: SENIOR — Chris Mullen, Sam Curlee
Others to watch: SENIOR — Tim Doerr; FRESHMAN — Brijai Varma
Strengths: The Knights have the strength in numbers. The amount of players rostered fosters a healthy competition.
Question Marks: The Knights lose the state champion and four-time conference champion means Mullen makes the leap from third singles to the top of the ladder. They also will have three new double teams.
Overall Outlook: Watton calls it a team in transition, but if everything falls into place there is no reason they cannot compete for a conference championship.
Coach: Jill Walker (third season)
Last Year: 9-5 (6-2 PAC-10)
Notable Losses: Chris Lawley
Key Returners: SENIOR — Justin Baman
Others to Watch: SENIOR — Tassos Sapalidas
Strengths: The Warriors returned season and PAC-10 singles champ Justin Baman. He leads well by actions and vocally. He alone keeps the Warriors competitive in the league.
Question Marks: The new team is full of inexperience with six players coming up from JV this season to fill the varsity roster.
Overall Outlook: Coach Walker says "she is excited for the upcoming season.' The Warriors expect a lot of tight games and close, competitive matches.
Coach: Frank Flanagan (first season)
Last Year: 9-7
Notable Losses: Chanton Phan
Key Returners: SENIORS — Chandat Phan, Jessie Herb, Ernest Pelichotti, Noah Lare, Jeremy Tylenda, Ben Van Pelt, Raphael Rangel; Others to watch: JUNIORS — Kevin Xander, Neil Frings, Gordon Blaxall
Strengths: The Rams are pleased with the leadership presented by seniors Phan and crew. The top singles player Chandat has a chance to be one of the best in the area.
Question Marks: The weather has slowed down the early season meetings and with a first year head coach the group is still getting to know how Flanagan works.
Overall Outlook: The Rams believe the bring back enough talent to challenge for a conference championship.
Coach: Wendy Bradshaw (third season)
Last Year: 6-6 (3-4 SOL Continental)
Notable Losses: Kevin DeRosa, Jason Everett
Key Returners: SENIORS — Grant Welby, Devon James; JUNIOR — Alejandro Castaneda
Others to Watch: JUNIOR — Adam Lowe; SOPHOMORE — Eric Souder; FRESHMAN — Evan Delp
Strengths: The Indians are excited about their depth. The players back got experience as doubles and are ready to take a chance as competing in the single matches.
Question Marks: The Indians lost their top two singles players in DeRosa and Everett, who also joined forces for the postseason and took home a doubles championship. They will be a challenge to replace.
Overall Outlook: The Indians feel this season is promising thanks to the growth of returning players and some incoming talented freshman.
Coach: Mark Daniels (30th season)
Last Year: 13-2 (6-1 SOL American)
Notable Losses: Bee Callahan, Pranov Kunapuli, Lee Beckman, Andy Lee, Matt Hornbaker
Key Returners: SENIORS — Evan Cuff, Nikhilkandpal, Kevin Kallukranm, Ryan Jarvis; JUNIOR — Srini Sunil; SOPHOMORES — Ben Wolfe, Nimay Godbole, Greg Welsh
Others to watch: SENIOR — Christian King; SOPHOMORES - Suhaas Adiraju, Zane Peng; FRESHMEN — David Weiss, Sam Langman
Strengths: The Trojans are working well together and working hard. The returnees come back much improved.
Question Marks: The Trojans expect to contend for another American Conference championship and perform well in the postseason team tournaments.
Follow Andrew Marcus on Twitter @amarcus515.