By Kyle Daubs

The Trojans finished runner-up in five times at last spring’s Apollo Championships, reaching two doubles and three singles finals.

The Trojans, 9-5 last season, lost No. 2 singles player Pierson Smith to graduation. But CHS does return All-Apollo and state qualifier Vince DiNaso, who played all season as the Trojans’ No. 1 singles player. 

“Vince played number one for us all year and has been a leader,” said Charleston coach Jeremy Hudson. “As far as conference favorites, I think it should be a very competitive year. Mount Zion is always strong and is bringing back a tough team. We are confident we can compete with anyone this year. As far as individuals go, Thad Dillion from Effingham should be very tough this year.”

Mattoon, meanwhile, reached two singles finals and one doubles match, but the Green Wave lost its state-qualifying duo of Pierce Farmer and Josh Ramage.

Charleston and Mattoon finished in a tie for second place in the Apollo last season, losing to conference champion Mount Zion, which appears to be strong again this season behind two returning All-Apollo players. 

The top three finishers in the Apollo Conference figure to meet each other near the top again. 

Mount Zion, 13-4 last season, finished runner-up at the IHSA Bloomington Sectional. Lost from the Braves is the team’s No. 1 singles player Francis Velasco, an All-Conference and First-Team All-State doubles finisher. The tandem of Valasco and partner Lane Fehrenbacher placed fifth last year at the IHSA State Finals. 

Fehrenbacher returns, as does fellow senior Rylee Gower who were both All-Apollo last season and state qualifiers. Junior Will Shade also qualifiers for the Braves.

“I believe that we are the team to beat this year with only losing one player from our Conference line-up from last year,” said Mt. Zion coach Mike Roberts. “We have as good a top four as we have ever had, with an incredible amount of depth.”

Rounding out the rest of the conference is Effingham and Lincoln. Teutopolis will not return as the Wooden Shoes were a part of the Apollo for just one season. Effingham placed fifth in the conference, while Lincoln was sixth.

Dillion of Effingham was the No. 1 single’s runner-up last year.