Eagle teams have the best numbers in years

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There are a lot of athletes at Belen High tennis team practices this season.

If the athletes stick around, eventually, BHS coach Regina Elkins is hoping they'll turn into a large group of seasoned players.

"Our numbers are impressive," said Elkins, who has coached BHS tennis for more than 30 years. "But there are a lot of beginners."

At a recent practice, Elkins had 17 girls and 12 boys — numbers forged through years of state-tourney runs and the summer youth and fall Belen Middle School programs run by Barbra Grega.

The Eagles are set to open the 2013 season with home matches against Rio Rancho High at 10 a.m., Saturday, March 2. The Lobo Invite, held at the University of New Mexico, is set for Saturday, March 9.

Gone are several key graduates, including No. 1 girls singles player Stephanie Sander and the No. 1 boys doubles players, David Garcia and Niccolas Lux, who qualified for last year's state championships. Lux and Garcia made the second round of state in doubles.

There aren't many returners, but the Eagles who are back are mostly solid, multi-year letter winners.

The boys' most experienced player will be Matt Becker, who will likely be the boys' top singles player. A five-year Eagle, Becker will be called upon for leadership — and a lot of wins.

Becker and teammate Elizabeth Martinez both played in the initial North-South tennis competition in the fall.

Andres Salas is the other main returning senior on the boys side. He's a veteran in both singles and doubles tennis, partly to work on conditioning.

Nick Garcia would have been another senior, but he has decided to do track and field.

Gilbert Devlin is a junior. The lanky Devlin has improved, and has more than one season of experience as an Eagle.

Phillip Carrillo is in his third year of BHS tennis. The diminutive sophomore has shined, at times, in both singles and doubles.

Another sophomore, David Martinez, is a wrestler who has told Elkins he plans to come out for tennis.

There are a number of other boys on the team, but not all have high-school tennis experience.

Roman Prevot and Derek Saavedra are among the many newcomers, and some are athletes who have excelled in other sports. Prevot has competed for Los Lunas High because Belen High doesn't have a swim team.

The Lady Eagles have about the same amount of returners. The lineup and whether each athlete plays singles or doubles will be determined partly by matchups, on any given day.

Elizabeth Martinez and Melanie Martinez are seniors who are among the top Lady Eagle returners. Both have multiple years with the program. Both have had impressive matches on both the singles and doubles sides.

Esperanza Herrera is a junior and third-year Lady Eagle. She has progressed, and has played both singles and doubles.

Mariam Mojtabai is a freshman who played with BHS last year as an eighth-grader. Shania Sanchez is an eighth-grader who Elkins expects to make the regular lineup, and contribute, this season.

Katee Lucero is a transfer from St. Pius who can only play junior-varsity matches in 2013, but might still help improve the team by being competitive at practice. There are several newcomers who could also contribute, in different ways.

The junior-varsity coach will be Dr. Elizabeth von Toll, a reading specialist at Central Elementary. The practices are often run by Gary Elkins, Regina's husband, who is technically the head coach, along with Grega, but Regina Elkins remains the main decision-maker for the program.

The March 9 Lobo Invite, at UNM, will feature Grants and Hope Christian. The District 1-4A tournaments are set for the week of May 2 in Farmington.


-- Email the author at jbrooks@news-bulletin.com.