FORTVILLE — Gabe Muterspaugh didn’t sound the alarm three weeks ago when his Mt. Vernon boys tennis team lost their season opener 3-2 to Shenandoah.
At least, he didn’t publicly.
Instead, with a roster chock-full of 29 athletes, the veteran head coach reshuffled, reconfigured and his Marauders responded with a nine-match winning streak.
After defeating Hoosier Heritage Conference rival Greenfield-Central 3-2 at home Tuesday, the Marauders improved to 9-1 on the season. Their run puts them at a contending 3-0 in the conference standings.
“(After Shenandoah) the alarm went off for me personally. I try not to let them know there is an alarm going off. Instead, I told them, we have to get better, and the guys have really bought in,” Muterspaugh said. “We’re working harder than I can remember in the last 10 years. It’s a lot of fun to coach right now.”
The primary move this season occurred at No. 1 doubles where junior Brayden Browning went from having senior Matthew McCullough as a partner in the opener to junior Sam Frye the rest of the way.
The new duo is unbeaten on the season so far with Browning at 11-0 in his first varsity season. Against Greenfield-Central, the tandem won 6-1, 6-1 as Mt. Vernon pulled ahead 3-0 to before the visiting Cougars claimed the final two points.
“I have a kid in Brayden that has put himself at JV the past two years and has risen above. To see him do this is pretty exciting stuff,” Muterspaugh said. “Sam Frye is the same thing this year. He wanted to play singles this year, and we asked him to go doubles to help us out. He hasn’t said anything and just went and did it. Those are guys you want.”
The Marauders’ No. 2 doubles team is an odd couple of sorts, Muterspaugh remarked, but ideal for what the team craved.
Natural leaders and energetic, junior Peyton Meadors and Sam McCarty won 6-0, 6-1 on Tuesday to ramp up their record to 11-0.
“You have a basketball player and a baseball player. And that’s where a multiple-sport athlete can excel,” Muterspaugh said. “In the position they are at, their chemistry is awesome, and those guys (at doubles) are leading the team. They are getting everybody hyped up and focused. That is what you want from your leaders. We have true leaders this year.”
Meadors, a standout basketball player, helped recruit McCarty, an up-and-coming baseball player, this offseason, and the two have been staples for the program.
Last weekend, they went a flawless 3-0 during the Muncie Central Tournament, defeating the host Bearcats, Blackford and Jay County as the team won the title.
They were key in Mt. Vernon’s 3-2 win against HHC foes Pendleton Heights on Aug. 28 and the team’s 5-0 sweep of Yorktown on Aug. 31.
“With Sam in his first year, and me, only my second, I didn’t expect this, but we’re both athletes and hate to lose. It’s working out for us,” Meadors said.
The Marauders have won five matches by a 3-2 margin this season.
The team’s third point against Greenfield-Central came from JD Cohee, a junior, at No. 2 singles against Brad McDowell 6-1, 6-2. Cohee started at No. 1 singles earlier this year, but he moved down a spot as McCullough took his place.
Thomas Obergfell, another multi-sport athlete, who plays baseball, seized the No. 3 singles spot for Mt. Vernon recently, but he suffered a foot injury during Tuesday’s match. His availability this week, and specifically for the Hancock County Tournament on Saturday is questionable.
Muterspaugh hopes Obergfell can recover quickly after losing 6-2, 6-3 against Greenfield-Central junior Mason Bussel, but he believes the team will rally to fill the void, if necessary.
“We knew coming in we would be multiple guys at multiple spots this year at singles,” Muterspaugh said. “Next man up mentality has been big for us this year.”
The Cougars, who dropped to 4-6 and 0-3 in the HHC, played to their strengths to earn both points against the Marauders with No. 1 singles player Kole Willis winning in two sets.
“He actually broke his racquet strings yesterday, so he was playing with a different racquet today. I think he came out and played extremely well, given that scenario,” Greenfield-Central head coach Michael Turpin said. “First set, he did great, and the second set went to a tiebreaker (8-6), but he showed his experience, stuck with it and finished it out.”
Bussel followed suit with a two-set win after making the switch from doubles initially this year to the singles spotlight.
“That’s his third match at singles this year, so he’s still getting used to it,” Turpin said. “The more he plays the better he’s going to get at it. With each match, he looks more consistent.”
The objective for both teams this week — beyond the conference ramifications — points toward the county tournament this Saturday at New Palestine.
Hoping to disrupt the host Dragons run at a potential eighth straight team championship, the Cougars are looking to challenge at singles. The Marauders are gearing up to score points at doubles and possibly more.
Greenfield-Central travels to Knightstown on Thursday for another warm-up prior to county, while Mt. Vernon heads to Lawrence North today.
“We’re pumped. It’s a lot of tennis, but that’s why we’re out here playing because we love it,” Meadors said. “I’m pumped and I can’t wait to see how the rest of the week turns out.”