Perfection is hard enough to beat, let alone repeat, or so Mt. Vernon tennis coach Gabe Muterspaugh hopes when the Hancock County Tennis Tournament opens Saturday morning.
Caught up in New Palestine’s wake last season as the Dragons rolled to a tournament title sweep, Muterspaugh’s Marauders are fixated on leveling the field.
And they’re not alone.
Eastern Hancock and Greenfield- Central, which both had contenders fall in tournament final matches in 2014, are eager to play spoiler in the Dragons’ quest at a potential sixth consecutive team championship.
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The key, Muterspaugh said, lies in the indisputable.
“All the pressure is on New Pal. They’re the ones that have the crown,” the coach said. “We just need to come in and believe and go after it. We’re going to let it all hang out on Saturday.”
If any team has the lineup to challenge the defending champions, it’s host Mt. Vernon, which has surged to a program-best 8-1 start following its 4-1 win Tuesday against Greenfield-Central.
The Marauders have scored five 3-2 wins in dual matches, finished runner-up at the Muncie Central Invitational last weekend and are a flawless 3-0 in the Hoosier Heritage Conference.
Mt. Vernon’s strength and experience resides with its singles players, and it intends to rely on them heavily for crucial points and placements.
“We’re going to roll with our singles guys. That’s what we’ve kind of loaded up with,” Muterspaugh said. “They’ve been through the battles. It’s just a matter of being focused and at the end of the day having fun.”
Brandon Ware, a senior captain, already has achieved both with victories against Pendleton Heights and Greenfield-Central.
Ryan Beck, a junior, has adjusted quickly, moving from doubles to No. 2 singles this year, carrying a 10-1 record through nine events.
Senior Matt Hays at No. 3 singles is 10-2. He and Beck teamed at doubles in last year’s county tournament before holding their own as team and statistical leaders.
“We’re keeping strong (at singles), and that’s what we need to try to win county,” Ware said. “We’re all there to prove it and show that Mt. Vernon can be the best.
“We’re not just trying to get one. We’re going to get them all. Last year is last year. They don’t have the same players coming back, and we do.”
New Palestine is far from desolate, however, despite their offseason changing of the guard and substantial losses after graduation.
Led by coach Des Evans, who took over for Chris Hardin, the Dragons are 8-1-1 after beating University 5-0 and tying Silver Creek 2-2 over Labor Day weekend before a storm postponed the triangular tournament.
New Palestine is 3-1 in the HHC with a 3-2 win versus Yorktown, a 5-0 victory against Greenfield-Central and another 3-2 triumph against Shelbyville. Their lone loss was against Delta, 5-0.
Senior Coltin Espich leads the team at No. 1 singles. As a junior, he claimed the No. 3 singles county title.
Matthew True, a freshman, is an impressive 9-1 while seniors Josh McKinney and Evan Rejer, which partnered to win the No. 2 doubles county title last year, are projected to contend for the No. 1 doubles crown.
Eastern Hancock has been strong in the singles with senior Garek Ferguson earning substantial wins at No. 3 singles for the 5-3 Royals.
Sophomore Duncan Cherry, a county runner-up at No. 3 singles as a freshman, has carved out a new home at No. 1 singles this season, which makes the tournament field deep and talented.
In the points-based county tournament, however, anything can happen, Greenfield-Central head coach Michael Turpin said, beginning with the blind draw prior to the event’s 9 a.m. start.
“Nobody gets more of an advantage over anyone else,” the first-year coach noted. “You just come into it and you play whomever you’re matched up with that day. It’s not like you have all week to think about it.
“No matter what, you have to win that first round. You have to win the second round. It doesn’t matter you have to play, if you don’t win, you don’t move on.”
Both of the Cougars’ 2014 county runner-ups will compete in singles matches in junior Nate Real at No. 2 and senior Tommy Graham at No. 3. The duo took second at No. 1 doubles to New Palestine.
Zak Lawhorn, the Cougars’ incumbent at No. 1 singles entering the year, will look to steal points along with the No. 1 doubles team of Saben Fletcher and Dylan Wilburn. The twosome beat Mt. Vernon earlier this week.
“Any time you win, I think it puts more pressure on you,” Turpin remarked on the psychological factor of the tournament setup. “You’re expected to do it again and again, so right now it’s up to New Pal to do it again.
“Obviously, when you win, you know you’re capable of doing it, but you feel the pressure more. It’s all mentality. Depends on how you look at it.”