GREENFIELD — For the third time in three seasons, the Greenfield-Central boys tennis team will have a new head coach at the helm.
Greenfield-Central graduate and former assistant tennis coach Michael Turpin was recently promoted to interim head coach after the resignation of former head coach Ryan Smith, who led the Cougars for one season.
The move was made shortly after Smith stepped down in early July, according to Greenfield-Central athletics director Jared Manning.
The decision was a perfect fit since Turpin had served as an assistant the past two seasons, making the transition a smooth process considering the short time frame before the team’s preseason training and official first practice last week.
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“We’re excited about having him there and seeing how he operates this year,” Manning said.
Turpin, a 2008 Greenfield-Central alum, takes over a team that finished 8-11 under Smith. The year prior, Smith followed Frank DeLois, who steered the Cougars to a 17-7 finish in 2013.
Former head coach Jeff Sincroft has been the longest tenured coach in recent years, guiding the boys tennis team for three seasons from 2010-12.
He accumulated an 18-6 record and a runner-up placement in the Hancock County Tournament in 2012.
DeLois netted a similar result with a runner-up finish in county and sectional.
Last fall, the Cougars were third in county and were swept by New Palestine in the first round of sectional, but if stability at the position can be found, sustained success could materialize, Manning said.
“That’s the main goal. We’re trying to find someone who can obviously be in that position for a couple of years and grow and develop the program the way we were hoping would happen with Ryan this past year,” Manning said.
“We hope that does happen, and we’ll see how this year goes and go from there.”
Smith, a singles players during his days at Columbus East High School, was commuting from the Fishers area in Hamilton County last season, which eventually ran its course with him and his young family.
When he resigned, the decision didn’t come lightly, but it was one he had to make after weighing his family’s needs.
“I have three little kids at home and it was just a real challenge last year to manage all of that,” Smith said. “My oldest is in travel soccer this year, and it wasn’t a good fit in regards to my family schedule; nothing to do with the school or the program. I miss it dearly, but sometimes you have to make sacrifices for your family.”
Though, his resignation occurred less than a month before the team’s tryout period, Smith has complete confidence in Turpin.
“I think it’s a great fit. He’s real dialed in with the kids,” Smith said. “He’s Greenfield born and bread. He teaches there. I think he’ll do a wonderful job.”
Turpin is a third-grade teacher at Harris Elementary School and played tennis as a singles player as a high schooler. He never advanced to varsity but earned the No. 1 spot on the junior varsity, and his interest in the sport increased as he matured.
While at Ball State University for four years after transferring from IUPUI, Turpin played recreational tennis routinely and now goes out to the courts on a daily basis during the summer. He graduated from Ball State in 2013.
“So far it’s been a lot of fun to use everything I’ve learned from that time period as an assistant and have complete control of the practices and be able to organize it how I think we should,” he said. “Some of these kids, I’ve worked with for a few years now, so it’s fun to see how much they’ve grown, how well they’re playing and who they are as people, too.”
With the 2015 campaign serving as his audition to possibly retain the job full-time, Turpin has been using the past few weeks doing his homework and evaluating his lineup.
From the first day, he made one thing clear with his players. Everything must be earned.
“We’ve been doing a lot of challenge matches, and I’ve told everyone that as far as I’m concerned, every position is open until I see how everyone is playing against each other,” Turpin said.
The Cougars won’t necessarily start from scratch talent-wise, though, with Zach Lawhorn, a junior, returning as the incumbent at No. 1 singles.
Tommy Graham, who played No. 3 singles last year as a junior, could stay there or slide to doubles if he doesn’t secure a singles spot in the coming week.
Nate Real, a junior, is in a similar scenario, said Turpin.
After playing doubles last fall, he could break into the singles lineup before the team’s first regular-season match on Aug. 18 against Scecina Memorial, depending on Turpin’s final evaluation of his projected starters.
“The biggest change from last year could be with Nate Real, if he switches from doubles to singles,” Turpin said. “Over the summer he’s been working on singles. He could be at No. 2 or 3 singles depending on how things go.
“Nate, Zach and Tommy, wherever they play, are going to be pretty important to what we can do.”
Senior Brady Wright brings back doubles experience, teaming with Sam Gwinn in 2014 at the No. 1 spot. Wright has been part of the program for three seasons.
Justin Madren, a junior, isn’t returning, opting to focus on marching band this season after playing No. 2 doubles for the Cougars.
But the roster carries depth with six seniors overall via program returnees Tony Li, Jerry Fogle, Tyler Kennedy and newcomer Morgan Bussel.
Turpin said he believes juniors Dylan Wilburn and Saben Fletcher could earn time at doubles once the final competition is settled this preseason.
Both are looking to stay healthy after suffering broken hands as sophomores. Fletcher’s injury happened in the first half of the year while Wilburn went down late in the season.
“Between the two of them, they are quite the pair,” Turpin said. “It will be interesting. It’s not a set thing that they’ll play together, but if they did, it will be their first year actually playing together in a competitive doubles spot.”
Regardless of how the season plays out, the Cougars’ new coach said he knows the team’s core group of juniors will play a vital part to the program’s success as they gain more experience with the 2016 season still ahead of them.
However, for the time being, the goal is to contend sooner rather than later, and it starts by trying to catch up with New Palestine, which ran its county tournament dominance to eight years before advancing to regional.
“New Palestine is always on our radar,” Turpin said. “We’ll see what happens.”
Coach: Michael Turpin, 1st year
2014: 8-11, finished third in Hancock County Tourney, lost to New Palestine 5-0 in sectional semifinals.
Returning players (grade): Zach Lawhorn (11), Tommy Graham (12), Nate Real (11), Brady Wright (12).
Outlook: Greenfield-Central brings back four players with substantial varsity experience, including two singles players from a year ago. While competitions are still ongoing for coach Turpin’s group, Lawhorn remains the incumbent at No. 1 singles while the other two spots remain up for grabs. Losing Sam Gwinn to graduation and Justin Madren to marching band, the team’s doubles teams will be revamped. If the Cougars want to break .500, their returnees will lead the way in addition to four seniors that could help provide depth.
First serve: The Cougars will scrimmage Beech Grove at home on Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. They open the regular season at home on Aug. 18 at 5:30 p.m. against Scecina Memorial.