DeKALB – The DeKalb boys tennis team is looking to finish atop the Northern Illinois Big 12 Conference with its experience and talent in the form of 10 seniors and hoping to take advantage of opponent’s roster short-comings.
“I’m looking for a very strong year,” said first-year coach Michael O’Neill, who was an assistant coach last season. “We have a lot of seniors returning, a lot of strong players, and I’m looking for an overall No. 1 finish in the conference. We finished third or fourth last year and some of the other schools have graduated some of their best players. We have a lot of returning players who have worked hard over the summer and the winter.”
One of O’Neill’s senior leaders is Matt Kulma, who qualified for the state meet for a third consecutive year as a junior last season. Kulma went 3-2 at state and made it to the second day of the tournament to earn a top-32 finish.
The strong-swinging Kulma is looking to close out his high school career with an even better ending, looking to finish in the top 16 in the state.
“I still got enough time to go further with what I’ve accomplished. I’m just going to work hard this season,” Kulma said. “It feels great to be a three-time state qualifier, three-time sectional champ and conference champ, so it would be great to accomplish it again for a fourth time.”
Kulma will lead the Barbs as the No, 1 singles player. The No. 2 position will be filled by senior Philip Henrikson, a top-four player in the conference last season.
Seniors Chuck White and Nick Sablich are O’Neill’s No. 1 doubles team. Last season, Sablich played No. 1 doubles with now-graduated Eric Changnon while White was a member of the No. 3 doubles team.
Nick Seidal will be a member of the No. 2 doubles team, but O’Neill doesn’t know who his partner will be because the cold weather has restricted the Barbs from practicing outside. Ben Hart is a possibility in conference matches, although, he will be the No. 3 singles player in nonconference matchups.
The anchors of the No. 3 team have not been named.
The Barbs have canceled two matches against IMSA and Belvidere North because of the weather and are scheduled to start the season Wednesday against Rockford Christian.