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Tennis Team's Title Defense Begins with In-House Rivalries

The Raider boys return three studs in the singles slots, but nine players are competing for only four doubles positions.

The boys’ tennis team faces a brutal schedule this spring — its non-league itinerary includes two reigning state champions and last year’s Division 1 runner-up — but for the first few weeks of the season, the Raiders’ toughest competition might be internal.

No fewer than nine players are vying for four doubles slots, and head coach Mike Sabin says he likely won’t settle on two steady pairings until later this month.

“We’ve never had a lineup at the beginning of the season that stayed the same all year,” said Sabin, whose Raiders last year. “Guys get better, guys plateau, guys get injured.”

Wellesley’s doubles contenders include senior Robert Miller; juniors Garrett Lam, Matt DiBiase, Nathan Nast, Dylan Ironside, Andres Kwart, Alex Heiden and Michael Chang; and sophomore Sam Canning.

Speaking Saturday morning, just three days before the season opener, Sabin did not indicate frontrunners or reveal which four will be in the lineup Tuesday against St. John’s, the team Wellesley beat in the D-1 final 10 months ago. All nine saw limited varsity action last season, Sabin said, and they will establish their relative strength by playing challenge matches during practice.

“A lot of it comes down to who pairs well with whom,” Sabin explained. “They’re all pretty talented, and they all have different skills. … All these guys would be challenging for singles spots on most other teams.”

The Raiders’ singles spots appear well established: Ilya Levin and Chris Cua, the Nos. 1 and 2 players a year ago, return to those positions as seniors. Alex Robertson, who teamed with Gordon Peters to last spring, assumes the No. 3 singles post.

That trio will share captaincy.

Sabin predicts Needham, which Wellesley edged, 3-2, in the Division 1 South final last year, will again present the Raiders’ stiffest test within the Bay State Conference.

He also notes the Raiders, who posted a 20-0 regular-season record in 2010, will have to work harder to repeat the feat this year. During the offseason, the BSC changed its scheduling format: Now, its member schools play every conference foe only once. In previous years, they played teams within their division twice.

For Wellesley, a Herget Division team, that means fewer matches with Dedham, Milton, Natick, Norwood and Walpole, some of which allowed Sabin to rest his best athletes.

In their place, Wellesley booked non-league heavyweights like St. John’s, Andover, defending Division 2 champ Hingham and Division 3 winner Weston. The Raiders also scheduled a second match with Needham.

“Our athletic director (John Brown) asked what I thought about the change, and I said, ‘I’m all for it,’” Sabin said. “It gives us more of a chance to see some of the best.”

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