The differerences this year are subtle, yet distinct.
There are no boys named Parkhurst powering their singles play.
There are new faces up and down their lineup.
And most noticeably, Wyoming Seminary’s boys tennis coach is now a woman more accustomed to coaching in the college ranks rather than one of the most respected tennis guys on the local circuit.
“I think it’s definitely different,” said senior Henry Cornell, who played No. 3 singles for Sem last season and will battle for the top spot in the lineup this season. “I’ve been playing with Mike since I was little.”
But while ailing Mike Balutanski may be missing his first boys season since taking over the Sem program, his replacement is more than capable of stepping in.
Former Misericordia University women’s tennis coach Allison Joanlanne begins her first season guiding a boys team, after stepping in to lead Sem’s girls program through the fall after Balutanski suffered a stroke.
“Difference? It’s colder in the spring,” Joanlanne laughed. “I don’t really see any difference.”
The players do.
“With Allison, you do a lot more running and conditioning out in practice,” said junior Chris Kim, who opened the season in Sem’s top singles spot. “When Mike was here, it was just play.”
Joanlanne is also carrying 10 players on the varsity roster — up a couple players from what Sem fielded in the past — and stresses preparation is just as important as actaul play.
“The first day (of practice), we did a team warmup,” Cornell added. “That’s the first time we’d ever done that.
“I’d say Mike was a little more old-school.”
Whether they’re playing for their old coach or a new one, the goal of the Blue Knights remains the same.
They intend to capture WVC and District 2 crowns, then advance as far as they can in the state tournament.
That ambition took the Blue Knights to the PIAA Class 2A finals last season, but a repeat of that run may be asking a lot. Gone are top singles players and twins George and Harry Parkhurst — who battled each other for the District 2 singles championship before graduating.
Still, filling Sem’s lineup with four new faces hardly seems like an ominous task to Joanlanne.
“They’re all just as talented,” Joanlanne said. “I’m very lucky.”
She does admit to one difference, though.
Joanlanne finds it easier getting her points across to high school players moreso than in the college game.
“You take a younger kid, they seem to catch on quicker,” Joanlanne said. “You’re able to mold them. I find it easier to work with the younger kids.”
Joanlanne helped the Seminary girls squad work through an unbeaten regular season, stepping in to coach the club when Balutansky suffered his stroke in preseason practice.
That success, and her nine years coaching in college, brought Joanlanne instant respect among players who reached the state championship round under their old coach.
“She started (at Sem) by doing a good job with the girls team back in the fall,” Cornell said. “And we knew she had a college backround in tennis.”
That experience has Joanlanne and her first boys team hopeful of continuing Sem’s run of success.
“State finals last year. They have a great act to follow,” Joanlanne said.
But the Blue Knights believe they have a chance to get there by following their new leader.
“Obviously, losing George and Harry — our first two singles players from last year — was big,” Kim said. “It’s going to be hard to get where we were without them.
“But I don’t count us out of anything.”
Not even another long playoff run.
“Things are no different this year,” Cornell said. ” I think we still have a quality team. We’re looking to do some of the same things.”