For the past three seasons, Palo Verde’s boys have earned a spot in the state tennis final.
The Panthers are looking to make their reservation in the title match permanent.
The state champions in 2004 and 2006 and the runner-up in 2005, Palo Verde returns a handful of key players from last year’s team.
Quite simply, the Panthers aren’t letting up.
“They work harder in practice against each other than I’ve ever seen any group of guys,” Palo Verde coach Zach Brandt said. “They really go after each other. They motivate each other.
“A lot of these kids have had success. If they were to fall short, it would be a disappointment.”
The Panthers return the two-time defending state champions in doubles in juniors David Nichols and Brandon Parker, but the duo probably won’t try for a third crown. Instead, Parker will anchor the Panthers’ lineup in singles and is hoping to wrestle the state title away from Canyon Springs junior Stan Breland.
“Brandon wanted to make a move and go to singles,” Brandt said. “His brother (Cameron Parker) played here and won two singles titles. Brandon thinks he can give Stan a run for his money.”
Nichols could play singles or doubles. “David is so versatile,” Brandt said. “He’s probably the most pure athlete we have.”
If Nichols moves to singles, the Panthers still will have a more than capable top doubles unit in senior captains Spencer Aguiar and Zach Wetterling. Aguiar teamed with Alex Zara last season and faced Nichols and Parker in the state finals.
While some teams in the valley struggle to get enough players to fill out a roster, Brandt is blessed with a team full of talent. Many of his players have competed for years in tournaments and at tennis camps and clinics but don’t grasp the team concept until they join the Panthers.
The talent level pushes each player to improve just to stay in the lineup, and it shows in the results.
“A lot of these kids have traveled for years with their parents, by themselves to tournaments,” Brandt said. “They don’t even know about the camaraderie of a team.”
Success isn’t limited to the boys team at Palo Verde. The girls were state champions in 2003 and have the makings of a team that might soon etch its name on a trophy.
Senior captain Lauren Centrella should be one of the top doubles players, while juniors Nikki Booth and Shelby Zepeda can play doubles or singles.
“Those three are very talented. They may play together, or they may play singles,” Brandt said.
Sarah Alamshaw returns after playing No. 1 singles as a freshman last year.
“She came in last year and beat everybody,” Brandt said. “She’ll definitely be a solid singles player.”
Still, a trip to state for either squad is no guarantee. Opponents have the Panthers circled on their schedules.
On the boys side, Coronado hopes to be strong again after finishing second to Palo Verde.
Bishop Gorman won the girls state title last year and could be primed to repeat, while Coronado remains strong after a runner-up finish last year. Silverado returns the state runners-up in doubles in sisters Kristen and Nicole Santero.Preps Central
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Bishop Gorman — Andrew Raphaelson, Kyle Del Rosario
Bonanza — Aashish Daulat, Andrew Whiting, Tommy Lettero
Canyon Springs — Stan Breland, Patrick Norman, Josh Jones
Centennial — Adam Beck
Cimarron-Memorial — Kris Kaplan, Michael Bysouth
Coronado — Brian Kenyon, Colton Pate
The Meadows — Jimmy Lovett
Palo Verde — Spencer Aguiar, David Nichols, Brandon Parker, Zach Wetterling
Shadow Ride — Stephen McHargue
Sierra Vista — Austin Petit, Zack Wardle
Silverado — Dillon McNamara, Devon Morissey
Bishop Gorman — Anita Lee, Sarah Toti
Bonanza — Tiffany Cook
Canyon Springs — Rebecca Breland
Cimarron-Memorial — Kate Johnefee
Clark — Iesha James, Natasha James
Coronado — Christine Uriante, Gabriella Jannotta
Del Sol — Katie Perryman
Liberty — Danae Ingwaldson
Palo Verde — Lauren Centrella, Nikki Booth, Shelby Zepeda, Sarah Alamshaw
Rancho — Karina Calderon
Shadow Ridge — Jennifer Andrade, Danielle Whittle
Sierra Vista — Danielle Ingwaldson, Danica Ingwaldson, Katy Daly
Silverado — Nicole Santero, Kristen Santero
Spring Valley — Claire Brantley