Tanner DeVarennes has become a regular on the second weekend of the Western Massachusetts tennis tournament.
The Lee senior has made it to at least the semifinals the last two years, but even he recognizes how stacked this year's field is.
"There's going to be a lot of tough competition this year," DeVarennes said. "I think within the last three years this is by far the toughest."
DeVarennes drew the No. 3 seed this year, behind top seed Rohan Shastri of Mount Greylock and No. 2 Loeniz Braind of Westfield. The tournament begins Saturday at Longmeadow High School, while the girls event kicks off at Smith College. Winners advance to the semifinals on the second weekend.
Shastri has the top seed in his first year back at the varsity level. He was 0-2 in this tournament as a seventh and eighth grader before moving to the United States Tennis Association's junior tour where he rose to No. 1 in New England. He has won tournaments tougher than this before like New England national events but he said he's trying not get ahead of himself in a field where the top three seeds are a combined 19-0.
"[My friends have] been saying for a while, ‘Oh you're going to win Western Mass. individuals so easily,' " Shastri said. "Sometimes it's tough not to think that far ahead, but I think I've done a good job of going match by match."
Winning is not the end-all for Shastri on this trip. He returned to the Mounties for fun and to enjoy time with his friends and that's still his mission.
Berkshire County's girls entrants face a similar challenge to the boys trying to unseat Shastri and Co. Lenox's Kelly Babich, the No. 4 seed, already got a taste of the level of competition the Pioneer Valley provides, losing 6-1, 6-0 to defending tournament champion and top seed Nicole McCann in a regular season match with Amherst on May 3.
The tournament can be as much a learning tool as it is about bringing home a trophy. John Jacobbe's young Mount Greylock girls team is sending two singles competitors in Margot Besnard (No. 14) and Tara Shastri. The Mounties also have the doubles team of Tyra Nurmi and Abby Tague entered. Jacobbe said even a tough loss can teach a player a lot.
"We're hoping to make Western Mass. [as a team]," Jacobbe said. "It's a good opportunity to compete individually in a pressure situation before facing the same situation in a team format."
Monument Mountain is also sending two singles players in ninth-seeded Sam White and No. 15 Courtney Freadman, as well as the doubles team of Jen Evans and Cara Freadman. Spartans coach Jeff Caligari said Freadman is mentally the toughest player he has while White has the ability to hang with some of the top players in the later rounds.
The power and consistency of the players from the eastern part of the section is something Caligari doesn't see very often in Berkshire County.
"In the later rounds, you've got to be able to move the ball around and have a lot of pace," he said.
Making a deep run against that kind of competition can be wearing, especially in this format where players may have to win as many as four matches in two days to advance. Shastri said he's been doing some strength training, so stamina isn't a concern.
Less confident may be DeVarennes, who has torn ligaments in his ankle. How long that ankle holds up could decide if he reaches the second weekend for a third straight year.
"I definitely think I can make another run as long as my ankle can hold up," he said. "I'm just looking to go out there and play my best tennis."