For years and years and years, the Hudson girls tennis team feasted on devouring its conference prey with ruthless efficiency.
These days, the tables have turned for the suddenly not as formidable Explorers.
"We’re hunters this year," 18th-year Hudson head coach Tim Morgan said.
The Explorers have plenty of motivation to be locked and loaded this year.
Hudson enters the 2019 season without something it once regularly called its own.
That would be a conference championship.
The Explorers were the Suburban League National Conference runners-up last fall after finishing 6-1 in dual matches. Brecksville-Broadview Heights captured the conference title to end Hudson’s three-year reign.
The Bees finished 7-0 to win the regular-season championship. Brecksville also captured first place in the National Conference tournament. The Explorers were the runners-up.
Are the proud Hudson players ready to claim what they fully believe is rightfully theirs?
Absolutely. However, they also know the Bees will be fiercely determined to protect their hive from blue and white invaders.
"Brecksville is the leader," Morgan said. "They have a lot of returning players. We’re going to have to play our best."
The Explorers will strive to reach their goal without their top player from a year ago. Susie Fan, who finished 17-12 at first singles, graduated during the spring.
Fortunately, Hudson has two gifted young women who will be more than happy to take Fan’s place at the top of the team’s heap. They are junior Laura Nijhuis and Sunny Fan, who is Susie’s younger sister.
Nijhuis, a regular in the singles’ lineup the previous two years, finished 21-10. She was the National Conference tournament champion at second singles and joined Susie Fan on a doubles team that reached Division I district play.
Fan captured the third singles’ championship at the 2018 National Conference tournament.
"Both Laura and Sunny are strong players," Morgan said. "They both provide us with great singles’ play and depth.
"Laura is a fairly powerful hitter when it comes to serving, forehand and backhand strokes. We’re hoping to improve her ability in terms of coming to the net.
"Sunny covers the court extremely well. She has a nice offensive forehand and a creative drop shot that she uses at the right time. She’s a strong competitor."
The rest of the varsity lineup comprises senior Jennifer Grainger, juniors Katie Tuttle and Samantha Sigler and sophomore Emi Uijtewaal.
"We have a strong core of six players," Morgan said. "Most of them can play singles or doubles."
Morgan also welcomes four newcomers to his talented squad. They are senior Abby Schurman, junior Emma Hall and sophomores Grace Preslock and Lara Zhang.
Other players who hope to contribute are seniors Julia Karman, Meghan Ceccardi and Mooskan Singhal.
The junior varsity coach is Janice Kampf, who previously served as the team’s head coach. Kampf has been Morgan’s assistant for more than a decade.
The road to the conference title expects to be as challenging as ever. Nonetheless, Morgan will be more than happy to go to war with his group of girls any time.
"I really like this group," he said. "They are hard-working. They have put in quite a bit of time to prepare themselves from last year to this year.
"It’s a matter of getting a couple of wins under their belts and gaining confidence. If you feel confident, your game is better. I like the camaraderie."
The Explorers are scheduled to make their 2019 debut at the Rocky River Invitational Friday at 9 a.m. Singles’ play is set to take place at Tri-City Park. Doubles’ play is scheduled to take place at Magnificat High School in Rocky River.
Reporter Frank Aceto can be reached at 330-541-9444, firstname.lastname@example.org or @FrankAceto_RPC.