Since the school year started, Ardmore’s tennis team has been waiting for March 1.

Since the school year started, Ardmore’s tennis team has been waiting for March 1.

The Tigers return all of their state tournament contributors for the 2011 season, which starts Tuesday with the eight-team Ardmore tournament. Ada, Duncan, Durant, Shawnee, Seminole, Byng and Pauls Valley will join the Tigers in an all-day kickoff to the spring season.

“Traditionally, Ardmore gets the first tournament,” Tigers coach Becky Dickinson said Friday. “It’s a talented field. The kids are prepared and anxious but I expect them to do really well.”

Back for the girls is three-year state qualifier Ellie Jones as well as fellow state qualifiers Claire Ocheltree, Alex Morales and Maddy Seals. For the boys, Jeremy Simpson, Devin Morales, Vince Dao and Austin Thompson all return from last year’s state team.

The offseason was a short one for Ardmore, which started workouts in late August after its Class 5A state tournament run in May.

“They’ve always had the ability. Now they’re more experienced, more confident,” Dickinson said. “They’ve played so many of the top players in the state.

“And I can’t say enough about the leadership from the boys and girls.”

The Tigers’ youth forced most of their players into elevated roles as underclassmen last season. Seals said intimidation played its part at the state tournament in 2010.

“It’s the biggest factor,” Seals said. “Making state is pretty intimidating itself. (Since state) the team has gotten a lot closer. We’ve mentally grown a lot.”

Ask the boys trio of Devin Morales, Dao and Thompson about their improvement during the offseason and they’ll point to a boost in confidence. Morales and Dao will team up on the No. 1 doubles team and Thompson will pair with newcomer Jamal Mosley at No. 2.

The experience from the big stage of state motivated Ardmore to get back to work as quickly as possible. If you passed by the tennis courts on the way to the football fieldhouse or basketball gym, odds are the Tigers had players at the net.

“After we came back from state, we only took a week or two off,” Dao said. “Now, we’ve started to hit better and get fit.”

Now the Tigers will see if the offseason has paid off. Matches start around 8:45 a.m. on Tuesday.

“This should be a tough tournament (at Ardmore), but we should all be confident in our game,” Devin Morales said. “We’re all young, but we all have big expectations for this year.”