One word comes to mind when Ryan Shomo recalls his last experience at the Class 2A Iowa Boys State Tennis Tournament.
"Nerves," Shomo said of his 2011 doubles outing playing alongside then-senior Derek Platt.
"I had a lot of nerves sophomore year. It was bad."
T-R PHOTO BY TYLER STRAND
While the Bobcat duo - representing Marshalltown's first state qualifier since 2005 - finished 0-2, the trip was far from a lost cause.
Heading back to Veterans Memorial Tennis Center in Cedar Rapids two years later, Shomo knows far more about what to expect from himself, his competition and the atmosphere of the big stage - pushing nerves into the rearview mirror.
"This year that's all out of the way now and I know a lot of the competition going in," Shomo said of entering his second state tournament, which runs Friday and Saturday. "It's given me a lot more confidence."
For his second go-round, the Cedarville University recruit enters with raised expectations and a sharpened focus on the task at hand.
"This year my goal wasn't just to make it to state," Shomo said. "I can start focusing on how well I play at state and my finishing at state rather than just qualifying."
Attaining a 13-3 mark at the No. 1 singles spot and advancing as one of eight Class 2A district champions in Iowa, Shomo reemerges on the state scene a much stronger and savvier player. MHS coach James Christensen believes it will be reflected with a No. 3 or 4 seed in the 16-player field.
"He's definitely physically and mentally matured and his tennis game has matured over those couple of years," Christensen said of Shomo's development. "He's shot up about three to five inches, which has added a little bit to his game. Mentally he's worked so much harder in the offseason and prepared himself for the battles that he's going to see at state."
Shomo has been battle-tested first hand against some of the players he'll encounter in Cedar Rapids, largely through his experience in United States Tennis Association (USTA) Tournaments.
The Bobcat left-hander has faced no less than seven of the other 15 players in the field, including fellow district champs Alex Huang of Ames, Brady Anderson of Linn-Mar, and Iowa City West's David Dilio. Huang is the top returning placewinner after claiming fourth a year ago.
Shomo has defeated Southeast Polk's Sam Rice three times this year, while also having previous experience against three other district runners-up including Andrew Ellis (Ames), AJ Naanep (Johnston) and Jackson Guilford (Indianola).
Though that previous court experience against the other elites is a two-way street.
"It kind of works both ways," Christensen said.
"At this level of tennis there's not a whole lot of unknowns. ... A lot of the guys know Ryan's game and Ryan knows a lot of their games. There's no surprises out there."
Shomo likes his chances of using that knowledge against his opponents.
"It's extremely helpful rather than just going into the match blind," he said.
"Having a gameplan is half the (match) out there and it will be extremely helpful if I can get paired up with one of these guys that I've played before - just knowing how to approach that match."
The four-year standout also knows how he's approaching his final outing in a Bobcat uniform.
"My goal is nothing less than a state championship this year," Shomo said.
"It's my last year and I'm just going to enjoy my time out there."
Christensen isn't setting any exact parameters on where he expects Shomo to finish, but knows his senior is one of the players that belongs in the conversation for reaching the top of the podium.
"If Ryan plays his game there's no reason he can't walk out of there with a very large trophy," Christensen said.
"We just want to see him play his best and compete to the level he is able to."
Half of the state singles' 16-player field is from CIML Conference schools, including seven from the Central Iowa Conference. ... Only two of the 16 (Ames' Huang and Andrew Ellis) competed in state singles last year. ... Seeding is determined Friday morning in a coaches meeting starting at 8:30 a.m. with matches following. ... Shomo is the first MHS singles qualifier since 2005 when Joey Lankelma and Kyle Krabbe both advanced. ... All three of Shomo's singles losses this year came against players competing in this weekend's state tournament. ... The senior Bobcat lost to both Alex Qin and Tommy Pitcher of Ames, and Fort Dodge St. Edmond's Aaron Chalstrom. ... Qin and Pitcher will compete in Class 2A doubles and are the defending champs, while Chalstrom is a three-time Class 1A singles runner-up and is back in the field for a fourth time.