With the Geneseo boys' tennis team only returning three letterwinners from last year's squad, the Leafs will be battling inexperience as they look to fill several holes in the varsity lineup.

With the Geneseo boys' tennis team only returning three letterwinners from last year's squad, the Leafs will be battling inexperience as they look to fill several holes in the varsity lineup.

"With only Shawn DePauw, Connor Vandersnick and Bryce Gramling returning we will have to see who can step up to the varsity and play at the next level," said head coach Kevin Reed. "The nice thing with the three letterwinners is, at practices, they are taking the players under their wing and showing them what is going on and how to improve. They notice also we are young and have limited experience, and are really trying to explain what to do. We have players who have played before, but need to get back into the swing of things."

Coach Reed said one of the team's goals they want to accomplish every year is to win conference and, despite being an inexperienced squad, that goal remains the same.

"A lot of the other schools are in the same boat as us and lost a lot of talent last year," said Reed. "It comes down to who can develop their youth the fastest. We didn't win F/S conference last year, but the goal is to get those guys to step up and take those places for varsity. Whatever team can do that will be the team that can be victorious at the end."

Looking to lead the way for the Leafs this year are: seniors Sam Alexander, DePauw, Mike Gallagher, Seth Stewart and Jacob Stimes.

"The biggest thing I want to see from the seniors is senior leadership and the fire for tennis," said Reed. "Shawn is trying to get to state for the third time and he could be one of the those top players in Geneseo history. The rest of the seniors we have holes and can they step up and fill those holes and be leaders."

The juniors also vying for the spot in the varsity lineup are: Payton DeMay, Gramling, Johnny Gray, Sam Ritter, Vandersnick and Luke Verplaetse.

"It is the same situation for the juniors, all spots are open so they just have to play the best that they can and see what they can do," said Reed.

This year's sophomore class includes: Brian Bozzer, Henry Dethlefs, Tom Jackson, Logan Lanphere, Sean Pemble, Brice Piotrowski, Brock Piotrowski and Tyler Williams.

The freshmen joining the Leafs for their first season of tennis are: Keaton Darin, Bryce Iwinski, Elliot Koster, Ben Rowley, Conner Welch and Jacob Yarger.

"The first thing we tell the freshmen and sophomores is all the spots are open, but the luxury for them is varsity spots are open, but if they don't make the lineup they can go back to F/S," said Reed. "The key right now is to take a look at their skills and really work on the skills they need to work on to get them prepared for that next level whether it is this year or next year."

One area the Leafs will need to work on is finding three varsity doubles teams as the squad doesn't return a single team from last year.

"In my 13 years of doing this, I always had an idea going into the season knowing who I think will be a really good doubles team," said Reed. "I am excited to find those people, but now it is the process of doing that and that is the difficult thing. It is a year process of finding those teams."

Coach Reed views one of his team's big strengths this year as work ethic.

"I think a huge thing is how they are working hard now," said Reed. "They are working hard at practice, and if the kids can keep working hard and buy into the system, we will be good at the end of the year.

"Overall, the guys know we don't have a lot of letterwinners coming back from the past year therefore there is determination to play harder and win a spot. They are looking forward and want to be a returning letterwinner next year."

The biggest challenge facing the Leafs is their inexperience.

"(Our inexperience) is one thing that is going to be the challengeing part and can they step up to the varsity level," said Reed. "It is a lot different between F/S and varsity tennis.

"We have depth, but can they develop into varsity players? We have 25 people and we are not afraid to use all of them. One thing we try to tell everybody is whoever plays the best will get the spot.

"We will be a much better team in May than in March. Once we get outside and know who is playing with who, we will definitely be a better team at the end."

As far as the outlook of the conference, DeKalb and LaSalle-Peru look to be the favorites because those are the two teams that return the most players, said Reed.

The Leafs open their season at 8:30 a.m. March 23 in the Rock Island Gold Invite.