Prior to the start of the 2020 season, Pulaski Academy tennis Coach Bill Topich said he felt good about his teams' chances of repeating as Class 4A boys and girls state champions.
The Bruins and Lady Bruins will get a shot to do just that this week when they host the state tournament at Burns Park in North Little Rock.
All five classifications will begin state postseason play this morning at various locations, with Burns Park also serving as the host venue for Class 3A.
The Class 6A tournament will be held at the Rebsamen Tennis Center in Little Rock, while Hot Springs Lakeside, which has won a combined 49 boys and girls state tennis championships, will hold the Class 5A event. The Class 2A tournament is set for Allen Park in Jonesboro.
However, Topich is one of many coaches who are happy their teams are actually getting an opportunity to finish off their seasons.
High school football game cancellations have seemingly become a weekly occurrence across the state because of the coronavirus pandemic. But for the most part, sports such as golf and tennis, were generally able to make it through the year without a bevy of covid-19-related issues. State golf titles have already been decided, and tennis will do the same over the next two days.
"We're cautiously optimistic," said Topich, who's led the Bruins to five state championships in a row and the Lady Bruins to titles in three of the past five years. "We feel like with so many returning starters back on both sides from last year, we have a unique opportunity. We had a couple of injury problems during the season, but overall, I think we're in pretty good shape."
Depth has been a big plus for Pulaski Academy this season, too, and it may pay dividends today and Tuesday. The Bruins have two entrants each on the boys and girls sides in both singles and doubles competition.
"All 12 of our starters advanced to the state tournament," Topich explained. "We were very pleased with that. It gives us more opportunities to garner points in trying to get us those state titles."
Several defending state champions are also back in their respective fields with chances to defend their championships from a year ago.
In 6A, Hayden Swope won a boys doubles crown in 2019 alongside Conor Clardy for Springdale Har-Ber, but he'll look to repeat this season with his brother, Carter, as his partner. The duo recently won the 6A-West title.
In addition, Jenna Kate Bohnert and Grace Lueders, a pair of juniors from Rogers, are gunning for their second consecutive 6A girls doubles title, as are Mountain Home's Sarah Godfrey and Macie Heide in Class 5A. Jenna Payne of Jonesboro, who cruised to the 5A girls single title last year, also returns.
A number of other players are looking to repeat as well, including Cydney Rogers of Valley View (4A girls singles), Keeton Dassinger of Episcopal Collegiate (3A boys singles) and Brianna and Barbara Phillips of LISA Academy (3A girls doubles).
WHAT High school state tennis tournaments
WHEN Today and Tuesday
WHERE Class 6A, Rebsamen Tennis Center (Little Rock), 10 a.m.; Class 5A, Hot Springs Lakeside, 10 a.m.; Class 4A, Burns Park (North Little Rock), 10 a.m.; Class 3A, Burns Park, 9 a.m.; Class 2A Allen Park (Jonesboro), 9 a.m.
DEFENDING CHAMPIONS Boys: Little Rock Cathlolic (6A), Jonesboro (5A), Pulaski Academy (4A), Episcopal Collegiate (3A), Haas Hall Bentonville (2A); Girls: Bentonville West (6A), Jonesboro (5A), Pulaski Academy (4A), Episcopal Collegiate (3A), Haas Hall Fayetteville (2A)
NOTE Little Rock Catholic has won five state titles in a row. … Three schools (Jonesboro, Pulaski Academy, Episcopal Collegiate) won state titles on both the boys and girls side last season. … Pulaski Academy’s Jack Lewis teamed with Connor Elliott to win the boys doubles championship a year ago but will be paired with Noah Becker during the tournament. Bella Tan of Pulaski Academy won a girls doubles title last season as well but will play in singles competition only. … Episcopal Collegiate’s Teddy Jones, a titlist in boys doubles in 2019 with Sidney Dassinger, will play with Charlie Brandom this week. Also, Hannah Jackson of Episcopal Collegiate has won the past two Class 3A singles titles but will compete with Mary Jewel Janes in doubles instead. Jackson beat Janes in the singles final last year. … Cydney Rogers is a two-time champion in Class 4A girls singles play. … Hot Springs Lakeside has won 23 state boys tennis titles, three more than Little Rock Catholic, for the most in state history. Lakeside also has 26 overall girls tennis championships, with Pulaski Academy ranking second with 16.