For the past two seasons, Chris Carroll has built the Lake Norman boys' tennis program into one of the best in the state. The Wildcats have gone 35-4 in that span and enter the 2010 season as the defending 3A state champions after claiming the 2009 title 5-0 over Southern Nash last May.
But a lot can change in nine months.
Gone are four of the Wildcats' top six players, including No. 1 Andrew McKinnon (Appalachian State) and No. 2 Trey McKee (Wofford). Lake Norman also has made the jump from 3A into the 4A I-Meck, one of the state's most competitive conferences, with such teams as North Mecklenburg, Hopewell, Mallard Creek and archrival Mooresville.
But Carroll and company hope that, as much as things have changed, the overall result will be the same.
"We know that we face a lot of new challenges this year with a lot of new people," said Carroll, who co-coaches the boys' and girls' tennis teams with his wife, Lezlie. "But we feel like we have a chance to keep this thing going. I think that all these guys know they have a tradition to uphold."
That tradition starts with three players: Drew Harmon, Matt Crisp and David Dyer, all of whom were key to the state title run last year.
Harmon is the Wildcats' new No. 1, moving up from No. 6 last season. Seniors Crisp (No. 2) and Dyer will fill in the rest of the top of the Lake Norman lineup.
"These guys (have) been in a lot of big matches over the last two years," Carroll said. "It's time for them to step up. It's their turn to lead this team."
The Wildcats also must develop other weapons. They have some good young talent, including senior David North, sophomore Gunner Goodway, South Aiken transfer Hamit Coody and freshman Shravan Rajan. Rajan comes from very good stock: His sister, Shruthi, graduated last year as the Wildcat girls' team's all-time leader in career victories.
"We definitely have a young team overall," Carroll said. "But I think these guys want to prove that they can do some things, too."
The Wildcats' main goals will be to prepare for the conference season and ultimately win that title. Then they will aim to be a factor again in the state playoffs.
"We will not be complacent or satisfied with things we've done in the past," Carroll said. "I think everyone (on this team) wants to become a part of the tradition (of winning). They know no one is going to give us anything. Now, we just have to go out and prove it on the courts."