DOBSON — The Lady Eagles tennis team will enter a new conference this fall with plenty of experience to challenge for the league title.
Surry Central lost all three members of the all-conference first and second teams, but return three players who qualified for the regional playoffs the past two years.
Kennedy Dockery and Mikayla Cox have finished second twice in the Northwest Conference 2A doubles tournament. Marlee Wilmoth finished third in the singles tournament the past two years.
What the Eagles lost is top seed and all-conference performer Savannah Wilson and honorable mentions Megan Gillespie and Abby Samuels.
Now Surry Central and North Surry break off from their 1A neighbors to form the Western Piedmont Athletic Conference. Joining them are Forbush, South Stokes, West Stokes and Carver.
With perennial powers Mount Airy, Bishop and North Stokes out of its league, Surry Central could be a force against its 2A counterparts.
Wilmoth, Dockery and Cox form a nice top half of the lineup. Also returning is Sommer Chilton, who regularly started for Samuels in doubles.
Six other players return and two new girls join the team, vying for one of the starting spots.
“They all have improved a lot,” Miller said of his returning players. “I think Cassie Hoge will have a tremendous showing this year.”
If Hoge and Chilton make the top six, that will leave only one starting spot up for grabs between Olivia Fowler, Mallory Wilmoth, Stephanie Boone, Madison White, Amelia Walsh, freshman Hope Hinson and Addi Norman, a senior who hasn’t gone out for tennis before.
“I’ve been pretty pleased with our freshman,” Miller said of Hinson. “She’s a pretty strong player.”
An interesting thing about this team is that there are several players who are equally good, according to the coach. The top three are a little ahead of the rest, but from the fourth spot down, the girls are pretty even, he said.
In tennis, schools often have one or two good players, but depth is a factor. The bottom three seeds could be the difference in some matches this year, he believed.
“If we come out and play each match, we should be a big contender this year,” he said.
“Weather has been a major conflict for me,” he said. The squad has been trying to practice in the morning to avoid afternoon showers.
In doubles play, Miller said he would probably keep his top team together again.
“Kennedy and Mikayla have played together since middle school,” he said. Marlee and Sommer played doubles last year and have become familiar with each other.
The third doubles team might not be made up of starters. Miller may choose to use his depth to bring in fresh legs for doubles.
As for being in a new conference, Miller admitted that he doesn’t know anything about Forbush’s and Carver’s tennis teams.
The Lady Eagles open the season Monday at home with Wilkes Central. Then they travel to Elkin on Wednesday. The following Monday they host East Surry.