Ethan Neil started hitting tennis balls on the courts in Papillion when he was 3. Sister Emma had a lot to do with that.

“It seems like a lot has revolved around tennis for us,” Emma Neil said of her family.

Emma and younger sister Claire were teammates at Papillion-La Vista and UNK. Claire currently is a junior with the Lopers while Emma graduated from UNK last year as the program’s career leader in wins.

Emma — now a teacher at Montclair Elementary in Millard — is back on those Papio courts as a coach for the Monarchs. And the team is led by her brother, who happens to be the Class A defending state champ at No. 1 singles.

“I was excited because I feel like we kind of grew up on these tennis courts,” Emma said. “To come back and coach where I played and with Ethan, it’s really special.

“I feel like we have a close family. It was a lot of fun playing with Claire in high school and college and now coming back with Ethan. Having that time together is wonderful.”

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Ethan, entering his junior season, feels the same.

“(Growing up) they used to hit with me all the time,” Ethan said of his sisters. “It’s nice getting advice from someone you’ve hit with for so long.”

After winning state last fall, Ethan continued to work on his game. In the offseason, he played in tournaments in South Dakota, Oklahoma, Missouri, Georgia and Arizona. He concentrated on improving his serve and serve receive so he can dictate more points.

“Ethan had to come to so many of our matches when he was little,” Emma said. “This summer Claire and I went and watched him a lot.”

Josh Siske, Papio’s coach, thinks Ethan has gotten better since last fall.

“The biggest thing is he’s stronger, he’s just physically stronger, so he can handle the grind of the season better,” Siske said. “Obviously, he did that last year pretty well, too.”

Neil entered state as the third seed, winning a pair of three-set matches on the final day. He knocked off second-seeded Connor Vandewege of Lincoln East in the semifinal and Lincoln Southeast’s Jack Bergmeyer in the final. Both of those players were seniors, but No. 1 singles in Class A is expected to be very competitive again.

There are now 33 teams in Class A, up from 27 last year. Among the teams moving up are Lincoln Pius X, Elkhorn South and Elkhorn — last year’s top three teams in Class B. Last year’s Class B finalists at No. 1 singles, Mason Warner of Pius and Elkhorn’s Zach Kuo, now will be competing for the A title as the season begins Thursday.

“It will be like last year, there will be a lot of good guys at No. 1 singles,” Neil said. “I’ll have to focus on my game and what I have to do each match.”

Siske said there shouldn’t be pressure on Neil to repeat. He figures if Neil improves as the season goes on, the wins will take care of themselves. And with his sister on the coaching staff, that won’t hurt, either.

“She knows his game way better than I do,” Siske said.