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TAMPA — Glenn Alvarez’s coaching friends have joked with him that he was crazy to take the Wharton boys tennis job.
“They tell me, ‘If you don’t win states, it’s a losing season,’ ” Alvarez said. “I just laugh with it.”
Alvarez does have big shoes to fill replacing Marcie Scholl, who guided the Wildcats to state team titles the past three years.
An even bigger void was left by Mike Alford, who won back-to-back No. 1 singles state titles and is now playing at Florida.
Last year’s No. 2 Ben Hwang and No. 3 Rohit Navelkar will each move up a spot and are experienced junior tennis players who won state titles as sophomores.
“It definitely feels different this year,” Navelkar said. “I really think we have a really solid chance at winning states again and making it four in a row. I think we have great depth."
Alvarez said Hwang and Navelkar are each capable of playing at No. 1 — their challenge match to decide their seeding went to three sets — so he’s confident the Wildcats will be strong at the top of the rotation.
Wharton’s success will also depend on freshmen Sam Chaffin at No. 3 and Alek Crnogorac at No. 4.
“They both have excellent ground games and excellent serves,” Alvarez said. “They both cover a lot of ground. High school tennis is nothing they’re intimidated by because they’re used to playing the best.”
Hwang and Navelkar have been in the same spot as underclassmen trying to hold up their end of the rotation, so Alvarez will depend on his seniors to guide the freshmen.
“The main thing is helping them make sure they maintain composure and don’t get upset with calls,” Alvarez said. “The seniors have been there before. …They’re going to have to be our leaders, because we’ll have a target on our back in every match. Other schools are going to look at them and be hungry.”
Boys to watch
Colin Edwards, Sr., Newsome: Top player on a Wolves team, who’s committed to Boston U. and should compete for a district title.
Eric Fitz-Randolph, So., Carrollwood Day: Berkeley transfer was No. 2 for state qualifier Bucs, played on varsity since seventh grade.
Ben Hwang, Sr., Wharton: Johns Hopkins commit takes over No. 1 singles spot occupied by two-time state singles champion Mike Alford; won No. 2 doubles state title.
Tristan Kaye, Jr., Plant: No. 1 singles player on team that won county’s top district (4A-5) last season.
Brian Kowalski, Jr., Hillsborough: Terriers’ No. 1 player went into 3A state tournament with an undefeated record.
Jack Murphy, Jr., Hillsborough: Could be the most talented player on the 3A state runnerup Terriers.
Rohit Navelkar, Sr., Wharton: Wildcats’ most experienced player won state title at No. 3 singles two years ago.
Jamie Sullivan, So., Jesuit: A 2A state singles quarterfinalist, he is already one of the county’s best.
Boys teams to watch
1. Wharton: Still talented up top, but will only go as far as freshmen take it.
2. Plant: Defending district champ is deep, but needs to replace senior leadership.
3. Hillsborough: Has one of the most talented 1-2 duos in the county, but needs to fill holes deeper in the rotation.
4. Jesuit: Last year’s Tigers were young; another year of experience should help.
5. Newsome: Colin Edwards paces a team loaded with talent and big-match experience.
Girls to watch
Rachael Adler, So., King: No. 1 player on a team that overcame Chamberlain to win districts.
Blair Martin, So., Plant: New Panthers’ No. 1 won 4A team No. 2 state title last season.
Nicole Mera, Sr., Chamberlain: One half of last year’s 3A individual state doubles champs.
Claire Mitchell Andrews, Jr., Plant: Reached 4A team No. 1 doubles final last season, will move up to No. 2 singles.
Bianca Roberts, Jr., Academy of the Holy Names: Jags’ top singles player was a big part of Holy Names’ A state qualifiers.
Kelly Sullivan, Sr., Tampa Catholic: A Class 2A individual singles finalist last season.
Kaleigh Wagner, Jr., Steinbrenner: Individual state qualifier in 2A, won district singles title.
Jaci Watson, Sr. Newsome: Top player on a deep Wolves team full of talent.
Girls teams to watch
1. Plant: Loses back-to-back POY Amber Li, who is sitting out her senior season, setting the stage for Blair Butler to follow in her footsteps.
2. Holy Names: Four of five singles players return from a state tournament team.
3. Newsome: Has great depth, added year of experience should help.
4. Steinbrenner: Ready to vie for upper echelon in Class 2A.
5. Chamberlain: Annual postseason factor; expect this year to be no different.