Last season was an exercise in being one point short for the Zionsville Lady Eagles tennis team.

The perennially strong contender came up just a point short of winning the Hoosier Crossroads Conference against Hamilton Southeastern. They also were a point short of advancing to the final eight of the state tournament with a 3-2 loss to Homestead at semistate.

Such is life for one of the state's best programs over the last decade.

Zionsville coach Pat Slama hopes to keep that trend going in 2010 with a team that is young, but has a lot of promise.

“This is clearly a building year,” Slama said about her team's 2010 prospects. “We return just one senior that was a varsity starter last year.

“We have about 10 freshmen and 24 sophomores and juniors and we know our competition is maturing while we're young. We're optimistic though. Winning our sectional and regional would be fabulous.”

Winning the regional is something Zionsville’s tennis program is used to doing. The Eagles have won nine straight regional titles coming into this season, and they know that they are the program with a target on its back both in conference play and in the tournament.

“We're the team with the most conference wins over the past years, winning six of nine conference championships since the Hoosier Crossroads Conference was created,” Slama said. “We don't have any giveaways though. We open with Westfield and they are a program that may have its best year ever this year while we're down a bit. Then we have a match with Hamilton Southeastern, which is one of our toughest matches, if not the toughest one. We may have some losses we're not used to seeing, but I'm optimistic. I've built this before.”

There are still plenty of questions heading into the season as tryouts are being conducted this week for the three singles spots and both doubles positions. Claire Madison is a doubles player that returns for the Eagles, but it will be up to a strong feeder program to rebuild things fully.

“We started a feeder program about six years ago and that is where we polish the fundamentals,” she said. “Those that have private lessons are kind of the cream that rises from there. I observe them as seventh and eighth graders so I have a good idea of what is coming in. Once they get to high school, I do a lot of programming about team tennis and how it is played in high school. The stroke mechanics and the basics are there from the middle school programs.”

Zionsville should be tested against a tough schedule, which Slama credits as a major benefit to the program. The Eagles face Cathedral and Carmel, as well as traditionally strong programs Brebeuf, Park Tudor and Center Grove in the invitational season.

“Many of those teams are the top five, six, seven, eight teams in the state,” Slama said. “I feel like if we can compete with them we don't have to worry about what's behind us. It took awhile to get them on our schedule, but we're glad they are there.”

Even against a tough schedule, the goals are the same, and with a strong feeder program Zionsville doesn’t appear to be a team that will be down for long.

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