Girls tennis season preview: Gators back as defending champs

The Decatur Gators’ girls tennis team enters the inaugural year of the South Puget Sound League Central Division as the heavy favorites. The six-team division includes the four Federal Way schools — Decatur, Beamer, Federal Way and Jefferson — along with Auburn Riverside and Curtis.

The Gators return their whole lineup from a team that finished second to the unbeaten Puyallup Vikings last year in the SPSL South, before rolling to the 2009 Class 4A state championship.

But it was really the efforts of Meghan Cassens at the state tournament that propelled Decatur to the title. Cassens finished the 2009 season unbeaten, including a straight-set victory over Lake Stevens’ Antonia Liebenow in the championship, 6-1, 6-1.

Her victory not only gave her the individual state championship, but also single-handedly gave the Gator girls their first-ever team state title. Cassens was the lone Decatur girl to qualify for the state tournament and the Gators tied Kamiakin and Newport for the girls team championship. All three teams finished with 10 points.

Also back are senior Sara Lin, juniors Christina Sessoms, Salena Shugarts, Jen Kanesta and Chanel Carlson, along with sophomore Alicia Hanson and some talented freshmen.

The Raiders return the only other state veterans in seniors Mackenzie Qualls and Caroline Min. The pair qualified as a doubles team last year and finished 0-2 at state.

Qualls and Min will lead a team that finished 8-8 in the SPSL North last year. But longtime head coach Andrew Buchan returns a bulk of his lineup and could push the Gators. Also back are seniors Averi Kitsch, Vanessa Sariego, Hayley Albrecht, Mari Hamashima and Cherina Warnes.

Beamer also finished 8-8 in the SPSL South last year to finish in fifth place in the league. The Titans return a lot of players with varsity experience, including seniors Ruth Yi and Sara Miller, juniors Jessica Sutcliff and Sandina Antoine and sophomore Taylor Lunka.

The Federal Way Eagles finished 3-13 in head coach Carmen Ferguson’s first season in the SPSL North Division.

But the Eagles return plenty of talent, including junior Haley Ward and seniors Dalynn Wingard, Vanessa Pham and Alina Himachuk.


Decatur Gators

Coach: John Cassens (fourth year)

Last year’s record: 12-2 (second in SPSL South, state champions)

Key returners: Jr. Meghan Cassens (state champion, singles); Sr. Sara Lin; Jr. Christina Sessoms; Jr. Salena Shugarts; Jr. Jen Kanesta; Jr. Chanel Carlson; Soph. Alicia Hanson; Jr. Kaitlin Parker.

Key losses: None

Federal Way Eagles

Coach: Carmen Ferguson (second year)

Last year’s record: 3-13 (eighth in North)

Key returners: Jr. Haley Ward; Sr. Dalynn Wingard; Sr. Vanessa Pham; Sr. Alina Himachuk; Sr. Katrina Honrade; Soph. Lauren Lang; Soph. Mina Park.

Key losses: Paige Edminston, Amanda Tran, Susan Huynh, Jolai Persinger, Diana Aleschenko.

Jefferson Raiders

Coach: Andrew Buchan (21st year)

Last year’s record: 8-8 (sixth in North)

Key returners: Sr. Averi Kitsch; Sr. Mackenzie Qualls; Sr. Caroline Min; Sr. Vanessa Sariego; Sr. Hayley Albrecht; Sr. Mari Hamashima; Sr. Cherina Warnes; Soph. Krista Nakamura; Soph. Breanna Ziccarelli.

Key newcomer: Fr. Michelle Lee

Key losses: Carli Kitsch, Julia Suico, Emily Tu.

Beamer Titans

Coach: Tyler Parsons (first year)

Last year’s record: 8-8 (fifth in South)

Key returners: Sr. Ruth Yi, Sr. Jessica Sutcliff; Jr. Sandina Antoine; Soph. Taylor Lunka; Sr. Sara Miller.

Key losses: Melissa Canfield, Kim Hong, Lindsay Yap.

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