FORTVILLE — After a year of near-misses, the Mt. Vernon boys tennis team is ready to get over the hump.
Last fall, head coach Gabe Muterspaugh’s group finished second at the Muncie Central Invite, Richmond Invitational, in the Hancock County Tournament and in the sectional.
They are working to avoid a repeat in 2015.
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“It was a year of seconds that’s for sure,” Muterspaugh said. “It was one of those where we had a good year but not a great year, but it’s something our guys coming back can definitely build on.
“We had a great first week of official practices. The attitudes have been wonderful, but we talked about what the difference is between being good and being great. … it’s the extra effort.”
The Marauders have collectively bought in, and with their injury-plagued 6-12 finish in 2013 behind them, along with last year’s 13-6 record, it’s time to get back to work.
This year’s goal
“Our goals have never changed in the 20 years that I’ve been doing it. You want to try to win every match. Control the county. If you control the county, then you control the sectional. When you do that, you get over to North Central, and you try to make some noise,” Muterspaugh said. “That doesn’t change.”
Neither does the importance of senior Brendon Ware.
Back this fall, Ware is a lock at No. 1 singles. He’s been named team captain and will be relied upon for leadership.
To date, his actions have fit the bill.
“He’s been battle tested. He played No. 1 all last year and had a good year. He did a lot of tournaments this year and in the offseason,” Mutersbaugh said. “He’s not the biggest guy in the world, but he’s extremely smart. He’s not going to blast you off the court, but he’ll frustrate you until no end. I’m excited to see how well he does this year.”
Ryan Beck, a junior, is moving from doubles play to No. 2 singles, where he will give the Marauders a one-two punch. It’s a jump Muterspaugh said he believes Beck is ready to make based on his athleticism.
A multi-sport athlete, Beck is also a pitcher on the baseball team, so he brings strength and the ability to hammer the ball.
Matt Hayes, a senior, is shifting from doubles to singles, occupying the No. 3 spot in the lineup. A three-year varsity competitor, Hayes is “long and lanky” at 6-foot-3 and can “get after it.”
“He’s going to be key to our season in the success we want to have,” Muterspaugh said. “He’s a really smart kid. He’s looking at colleges like Northwestern and St. Louis University, but sometimes he can be too analytical with his game, so we’ve talked about turning his brain off.”
Muterspaugh wants Hayes to play “more of a doubles game as a singles guy” and attack the net with his height to make the game easier, make the points shorter, thrive in the moment, and play away from the baseline.
At doubles, the Marauders will be “building” during the season.
The team will look to Gavin Stamper, a junior, who played on both doubles teams last year. Delayed after spending time in high-level band competition this summer, Stamper returned to school this week, so he is playing catch up early.
Senior Jacob Swift is another option after playing doubles last year at the junior varsity level. Two more possibilities at doubles include junior Nathan Grandstaff and freshman Brayden Browning, who has been active on the courts as a youth in middle school and in several local tournaments.
Juniors Brendon Pratt and Luken Rigsbee could see playing time at doubles this season as well.
6 guys, 4 spots
“We have about six guys battling for four spots right now,” Muterspaugh said. “We have 22 matches in the boys season, so we may have 22 different lineups in doubles if we can’t get it figured out. It’s going to be a growing spot for us.
“Our singles guys will be extremely important for us, especially in the beginning of the season until our doubles teams start to figure it out. Our (singles) guys know going into it, we got to get them going early and we have some early tournaments that will be huge. By the time we get to county we should be ready.”
Royals look to challenge
Things are falling into place for the Eastern Hancock boys tennis team. Impressed her group’s approach and talent, head coach Erin Wolski, who is entering her fifth season, said she believes the Royals can take their game to another level in 2015.
“All of my guys are hard workers, competitive and have a great team dynamic this year,” Wolski said. “They all came out quite a bit this summer. I feel like they’re working more in the offseason than ever before, which is great.”
Improve despite hardships
The team improved last season, upping its record from 10-6 to 12-7.
Their overall strength will come from experience, which junior Corbin Jennings and senior Garek Ferguson provide.
With only eight players on the roster, coach Wolski’s squad suffered an unexpected blow last year, losing her No. 1 singles player for a duration due to disciplinary issues.
The reshuffling of her lineup weakened the team momentarily, she admits, but it could play a factor this fall.
“I had to move up a guy that wasn’t ready for varsity, so everything got messed up during county, and it had us mixed up for about five matches where we didn’t have our normal lineup,” Wolski said. “It was crazy. This year, we’re not going to let that happen.”
While an inconvenience at the time, Ferguson gained time at No.1 singles, moving up from No. 1 doubles, which should help ease his transition this season.
Danny Rash and Kirby Petry have both graduated, which opens positions at No. 1 singles and No. 1 doubles, respectively.
Jennings, who excelled at No. 2 singles in 2014, will jump to the top singles spot. Replacing the junior at No. 2 singles will be senior Ferguson.
Bryce Jackson, a junior, will anchor No. 1 doubles with his full-time partner still yet to be determined.
Among the potential candidates are Jack Smith, a sophomore, and Tony Cape, a junior. The latter brings experience as one of the team’s No. 2 doubles players in 2014.
Smith has only played competitive tennis for two years prior and has been putting in the work to contend for a varsity spot after spending his freshman season at junior varsity.
Another possibility at No. 1 doubles is Duncan Cherry. Though he is on track to reclaim his No. 3 singles spot, Wolski isn’t ruling out having Cherry play in both spots throughout the season.
“I think No. 3 singles isn’t going to be as much of a challenge for him anymore, so if he gets that No. 1 doubles experience I think it will be good for him to play those tougher guys,” Wolski said. “It will be better than just playing at No. 3 singles all year, especially because next year I am expecting him to take on one of the top two singles spots.”
Wolski welcomes two freshman to the team who could contribute immediately. Cameron Alberts and Taylor Kramer each have an opportunity to be the eighth varsity player depending how tryouts unfold.
“I’m really excited for both of them. Their brothers and cousins have played for me before and all have been really good players. Two of them have gone on to play at smaller colleges. It’s in the genes,” Wolski said.
With a good mixture of upperclassmen and youth, Wolski and the Royals are aiming high.
“I would really like to win conference. I definitely believe it is within our ability to do it this year, especially if we get the mental part of the game down. That’s usually the hardest part” Wolski said. “Thats’ our primary goal. We’ve been very close several times.”
Coach: Erin Wolski, 5th year
2014: 12-7, finished fourth in Hancock County Tourney, lost to Mt. Vernon 4-1 in sectional semifinal
2015 key returnees (with grade):
Corbin Jennings (11), Garek Ferguson (12), Duncan Cherry (10), Bryce Jackson (11), Tony Cape (11)
First serve: The Royals host Mid-Hoosier Conference foe Southwestern on Tuesday, Aug. 18 at 5 p.m.
Coach: Gabe Muterspaugh, 21st year
2014: 13-6, finished second in Hancock County Tourney, lost to New Palestine 5-0 in sectional finals
2015 key returnees (with grade): Gavin Stamper (11), Brendon Ware (12). Ryan Beck (11), Matt Hays (12), Jacob Swift (12)
First serve: The Marauders host Shenandoah on Aug. 17 to open the regular season.