Senior Kyle Claggett and freshman Caleb Bowers are Sandy's top players

Last season, the Sandy boys tennis team suffered through an 0-7 campaign.

This year - with some experience on their side - the Pioneers could surprise a few people in the Mount Hood Conference.

'We're an older team,' coach Aaron Raasch said. 'We'll be able to pull off those really close games when - last year - we just weren't able to do it.'

Raasch, a 2001 Sandy graduate, knows a bit about quality tennis.

During his senior year, the Pioneers went undefeated and delivered the best season of boys tennis play in school history.

All of that happened under the watch of Greg Thorson - who is currently Sandy's girls tennis coach.

And Raasch took careful note of Thorson's formula(s) for success.

'I learned mostly from him,' Raasch admitted.

Senior Kyle Claggett and freshman Caleb Bowers will be Sandy's top guns as the team attempts to fill the void left by graduates Pete Wenzel, Dave Fantz and Kevin Moss.

The loss of Moss - a district placer - hurts the most, but the considerable talents of Claggett and Bowers should help ease the pain.

'(Bowers) is doing very well at second singles,' Raasch said. 'He's got a really good serve, especially lately - he's had a great serve. He's just a consistent player - he keeps the ball in play. He makes good shots, he makes good decisions.'

Claggett brings a wealth of experience to the court, having played four years.

At third singles, senior Merak Breck is expected to shine.

'Merak's doing really well at third singles,' Raasch said. 'He's a good player. He's very good for his spot. He'll win quite a bit at that spot.'

The top doubles unit is comprised of John Bilecki and Jeremy Gallagher, a talented racquetball player.

'Jeremy's doing well,' Raasch said. 'I think racquetball is his main focus, but he's a good player.'

Will L'Hommedieu and Pete Albright will man the second doubles unit, and winter sports stars Jordan Hufendick and Colby Hopkins will bring some of their athleticism to the third-unit doubles team.

Also expected to be a significant contributor on the team is sophomore Ben Hopper, who has performed well in both water polo and basketball.

'He's a great athlete,' Raasch said. 'He did pretty well, I heard, at water polo this year, and he's a good basketball player.'

Raasch expects Claggett and Bowers to compete for district placement, and he is toying with the idea of pairing the two in doubles play.

'I'm messing with the idea of putting them together to play doubles for districts,' Raasch said. 'I haven't decided if that's the best idea yet. Putting them together would be really good for them, but it would be really tough for the rest of the team.'

Outside of Sandy, Raasch expects Barlow and Central Catholic to cause their usual headaches.

'Barlow's going to be very tough,' Raasch said. 'Barlow and Central - every year they're tough. The only year I can remember beating them was my senior year - we went undefeated. We beat everybody.'

Conference foes also have an experience factor working for them.

'All the coaches that are coaching the teams around the conference are the same coaches from when I was playing,' Raasch said.

Still, though, Raasch remains unfazed and is confident that his unit will be just fine in 2007.

'We try really hard,' he said. 'We do our best to scrape every day and work hard.'

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