The boys tennis team is more a work in progress as coaches look for ways to build a team on a foundation solidly anchored by its No. 1 singles player.
Moriah Hibbard, who was the Lady Eagles' No. 1 singles player last year, suffered a torn ACL in a fall tournament and her sister Abbey Hibbard -- a four-year varsity player herself -- has stepped into the lead role.
Mark Hibbard, the team's coach and father of both girls, said Abbey began the season with three straight wins but the test lies ahead.
He said everyone is having to fill in. "The loss of our No. 1 has forced girls to move up and play singles who normally would be playing doubles. Catherine Harris (1-2 start) is one of those players, and she is improving with each match.
"Caroline Moore, a freshman, has moved from middle school tennis to high school tennis quite well, starting her season 2-1. Doubles teams are hurting because partners from last year have been split and they are adjusting to each other."
He said the team's No. 2 doubles teams of Betsy Lochridge and Hallie Weismith have pulled off two match-deciding wins with sheer determination.
Hibbard said both are just scrappy beginning tennis players doing things on a tennis court that sometime leave him speechless.
"Most girls you have to drag them to the net," he said, "but (the two) just naturally attack the net ball."
He said the No. 1 girls doubles team of Nikki Burkhalter and Taylor Vaughn has lost some close matches but is improving.
"They need to develop the lob more and that will open up the court," he said. "Taylor Vaughn is a freshman also that is willing to move forward on the court and take the ball out of the air and that is the key to girls' doubles.
"Other girls I have are Abbey Stegall and Dani Brown, who are working hard to break into the top 7 to see more varsity play."
Coach Hibbard said Ben Perkins is a solid No. 1 player for the Eagles and coaches are trying to find a solid combination behind him.
"His hard work in the summer and fall has paid off with a 2-1 (start to the season) with a good win against the No. 1 from Cass a few weeks ago," the coach said. "Ben is seeing his skills work pay off in that now he can hit shots and not just put the ball back in play."
He said some of the adjustments on the boys team will take longer.
"I have two other boys that have played more in the summer/fall and one has moved to playing singles instead of doubles," he said. "The problem is that singles is a totally different game so it will take Stephen Barton (No. 3 singles) some time to learn how to play singles. The No. 2 player Lachaz Phillips is another doubles player playing singles this year. He just needs a little more confidence in hitting through the ball and he will win points more easily."
Excel's No. 1 doubles team -- Jake Rouse and Andrew Tyree -- face a learning curve, too. "Jake played last year but Andrew did not so both are learning skills and how to play at the same time."
He said he is "moving Jake Newhouse in and out of the doubles slot at No. 1, and I have to forfeit the No. 2 slot each match because I do not have anymore boys. I have some boys I am working with in middle school and a few others that will help us in the future if they keep playing."
He said Excel teams usually are competing against teams whose members have tournament experience.
"Once you get past the season and into the region and state playoffs," Hibbard said, "it's all about having tennis players who play tournaments during the year. This can be seen when you check the Elite 8 teams and find at least four or five kids on those teams have tournament experience and have the skills that match the level of play."
Hibbard said time is an ally for Excel as the city and county recreation departments are working with young tennis players more and more, improving the quality of tennis play around Bartow County.