It's not common to lose more than half a roster and come back just as competitive.
However, the Denison-Schleswig girls tennis team is a bit uncommon. Four of the Lady Monarch's top six individuals graduated last spring. Returning to the lineup were seniors Carly Sis, Megan Kinsey and Rachael Ingram. Ingram was a state qualifier as a junior in doubles play along with the now graduated Kristen Alesch.
After Tuesday's 9-0 win over Atlantic, Denison-Schleswig is 4-0 in dual competition and finished second at the four-team Shenandoah tournament to start the season. The Lady Monarchs tied first-place Shenandoah in team points, but tiebreakers dropped them to second.
Among a coach's most difficult tasks is replacing a senior-laden roster, but Denison-Schleswig coach Dave Houston had a unique circumstance. Many of the girls on his roster have been waiting for their opportunity, and as a result, the Lady Monarchs have an all-senior lineup.
"This group of kids, since they've been freshmen, they've shown talent, have worked hard and have developed strokes," Houston said. "If you look at their junior varsity records, they never lost. There were just enough decent players ahead of them to keep them in the No. 7 to 12 range."
Among those individuals are singles players Kathy Ibarra (No. 2), Michaela Fineran (No. 3) and Kassidy Ipsen (No. 4). Houston said that after Ingram at No. 1, the talent is close between Nos. 2 and 6 singles, giving Denison-Schleswig tremendous depth.
Ingram played at No. 4 singles last year as a junior, but doubles play is where she shines. Her 5-foot-10 height is a benefit for playing close to the net. She and Alesch finished 1-2 in the state tournament last year.
Now, Ingram must shoulder more responsibility. She's not only the most established player on the roster but also the No. 1 singles player. That means she faces the opposition's best.
"It's a lot different," Ingram said. "Last year, I played No. 4, and there wasn't as much competition there as there is at No. 1. The biggest change is the returning of the serves, because at No. 1 there are very good servers."
Another adjustment is playing with a new partner in doubles, Kassidy Ipsen. Although the pair is still working out some kinks, they're playing well together at the No. 1 spot and have gone 3-1 so far this season.
Houston acknowledges that Ingram and Ipsen will continue getting better together and also said their skill sets complement each other.
"Kassidy's ground strokes will allow Rachel to get to the net as much as possible," Houston said. "I think there's some upside on that team. Mentally, they're doing fine and transitioning well."
The Lady Monarchs hope to maintain their strong play the rest of the season and ride that momentum through the postseason.
Ingram said that the team has one very important strength: unity.
"Last year our seniors were so fun to be with, but they took it more seriously," she said. "This year, we're out to have fun, and with that, we've been able to win. It's been a good time."