HANCOCK COUNTY — Mt. Vernon boys tennis coach Gabe Muterspaugh and assistant coach Graham McMullen admittedly were spoiled a year ago.
Anchored by a senior-laden lineup, the Marauders backed up their triumphant 2019 season with an even better showing last fall.
Winning a second consecutive Hancock County Tournament team title with four individual champions and claiming a second straight sectional crown after capturing their first since 2011 the year prior, Mt. Vernon got the job done.
At 23-2 overall, the Marauders also achieved a first as they bested Lawrence North, 3-2, during the North Central Regional semifinals. The win marked the boys’ first team regional win in program history.
For 2021, the goals remain the same, but the competitors will look vastly different with a completely overhauled starting lineup due to the graduation of seven seniors.
“We’re going to be young, but I don’t think we’ll be without talent,” said Muterspaugh, who enters his 27th season at Mt. Vernon. “We’re hoping the word reload is better than the word rebuild.”
Youth will be the key word for the Marauders, who are inserting two sophomores and a freshman into their singles spots while a trio of seniors will lead their doubles teams.
At No. 1 singles this season, sophomore Adam Koon has earned the top spot as a first-time varsity competitor.
At No. 2 singles, 6-foot-2 freshman Manny Downs will give the Marauders up-and-coming potential. Sophomore Robbie Downs, who spent time at No. 1 doubles last year, will be the No. 3 singles starter.
At No. 1 doubles, the duo of senior Brock Barr and left-hander Brady Pearson, a sophomore, will fill the void.
Senior Isaac Damer, who stand 6-6, and senior Blake Augunstine, another lefty, will start at No. 2 doubles.
While the 2020 Marauders were prolific with only one regular-season loss to Hoosier Heritage Conference champion Delta, the new group is focused on being itself.
“We always preach it to each group every season, go make your mark,” Muterspaugh said. “You’re always going to be somewhat compared to last year and years before, but we’re building on this culture that what these seniors did from last year established. Our young guys have been around it, and it’s something that they embrace and what we’ve embraced.”
Rival Greenfield-Central and New Palestine will definitely challenge the now hunted Marauders, but the newcomers aren’t backing down.
“There’s always going to be pressure. There’s always going to be that bull’s eye on our back even though we graduated seven seniors. But, that’s part of being Mt. Vernon. That’s part of being Mt. Vernon tennis and we embrace that, so let’s go,” Muterspaugh said.
In 2020, the Marauders finished second to Delta in the HHC standings and concluded their season with a 5-0 regional finals loss to eventual state runner-up North Central.
“It’s a machine. I don’t know if it’s well oiled, sometimes we think it’s broken down, but we get it up and going again, and that’s what we’re trying to do here is building towards our goals every year,” Muterspaugh said. “We want to win the conference, win the county and win the sectional. Our goal with this group right here is win a regional in two years.”
Cougars ready to compete
The Greenfield-Central boys tennis team finished the 2020 season at 12-6 overall and third in the county tournament.
The Cougars defeated county runner-up New Palestine 4-1 in the sectional quarterfinals before eventually losing to champion Mt. Vernon in the semifinals, and they are deep enough to make another push this year.
“We have 19 guys and we’re working pretty well,” G-C head coach Michael Turpin said. “I only had four seniors graduated.”
One of the 2021 seniors, Tyler White, is vying for a singles spot this season along with junior Matt Hyre, who competed at No. 3 singles last fall, and CJ Michalek, a sophomore.
“All three of them right now are very similar. They’re fighting neck and neck to find out who is one, two and three,” Turpin said. “As usually, hopefully, I have my set ready for (today), but I have a feeling they’ll continue to push each other all season long.”
The Cougars open the season today against Lawrence Central, but the singles lineup could remain fluid the next few weeks.
“Honestly, they’ve all taken turns beating each other so far in the practices we’ve had, so it’s going to be a difficult decision, especially since Matt is the only one who’s had varsity experience last year,” Turpin said. “It’s just a matter of seeing how we play and where we stand.”
Where Turpin is certain is at No. 1 doubles were standouts Jack Weidner and Corbin Tilley return. The team’s No. 2 doubles duo will be senior Casey Hunt and sophomore Chris Long.
Royals closing the gap
In years past, the Eastern Hancock boys tennis team has struggled to find consistency.
After a 9-8 record in 2015-16 under former head coach Erin Wolski, the Royals posted three straight losing seasons under Tom Huff before reaching .500 in 2019 and finally breaking through in 2020 at 11-5.
Leading the turnaround for the Royals in 2020 was No. 1 singles player Kodey Huff, coach Huff’s son, who competed at the IHSAA individual sectional tournament and earn All-Hancock County honors.
With Kodey graduated and coach Huff stepping down this offseason, the Royals have turned to longtime assistant coach Chris Zeilinga, who takes over the program after four years on staff.
A 1997 Eastern Hancock graduate, Zeilinga inherits plenty of talent and with the help of assistant coach Chris Hardin, a former head tennis coach at New Palestine in years past, there is optimism that the current upward trend will continue.
“Tom did a really good job, and we’re just trying to take the next step now,” Zeilinga said. “We’re definitely going to miss Kodey. He was tough as nails on the court, and I think he loved playing three-hour matches. But, we have a junior in Zeke Dixon, who played two singles for us last year that’s going to step in.”
Dixon, who went 12-6 last season, competed at two singles as a sophomore, and is currently 2-0 through the 2021 campaign. The Royals opened the season with a pair of wins over Randolph Southern and Southwestern at 5-0, respectively.
At No. 2 singles, the Royals will rely on senior Nolan Stout, who is moving up from three singles in 2020.
At No. 3 singles, the team has a trio of options in freshman Luke Schilling, sophomore Griffin Lawrence and freshman Bo Dixon.
The team’s No. 1 doubles team will consist of junior Bryce Wennen and senior Wyatt Sutton. Wennen and Dixon are both three-year varsity players.
The No. 2 doubles team will be junior Peyton Stephens and freshman Myles Wennen.
Dragons anchored by Schwier
The New Palestine boys tennis team finished second at the Hancock County Tournament last year, but they return several key players and will look to challenge behind senior Ezra Schwier.
An individual county champion at No. 1 singles in 2020, Schwier will once again handle the spotlight lineup position this fall.
Behind Schwier, one of the area’s most experienced players, is Colin Darley and Zach Au at the program’s other two singles spots
Doubles competition will be handled by Clayton Wesley and Devon Bird at the No. 1 spots. At No. 2 doubles, the tandem of Jackson Havel and Moses Haynes will team up.
The Dragons opened the season this week with a narrow 3-2 loss to Whiteland and a 4-1 victory over Greensburg.
Schwier improved to 2-0 while the team stands at 1-1.