Bobcats breeze past Grinnell

Marshalltown boys’ tennis team overcomes windy conditions to tame Tigers 9-2

T-R PHOTO BY THORN COMPTON • Marshalltown junior Luke Smith makes a running forehand return in his singles match against Kevin Werner during the Bobcats’ win over Grinnell on Monday at the MHS Tennis Courts.

When the Marshalltown boys tennis team took the court against Grinnell for a dual meet on Monday, the Bobcats and Tigers were facing more than each other.

A blustery and swirling wind was persistent throughout the competition, making balls unpredictable and taking lobbed hits well past their intended mark.

It didn’t matter for the MHS boys, however, as they beat both the Tigers and the conditions for a 9-2 meet victory. Bobcats junior Luke Smith, a winner at No. 3 doubles, said the biggest effect from the wind could be felt at the start of games.

“Serving was definitely a big factor with the wind, we had to shorten our tosses, it was really difficult to get some first serves in but eventually we found our mark,” he said.

Playing in tough weather conditions is nothing new to this Bobcat squad, considering essentially for the first month of competition they were playing in not just windy, but near-freezing weather. Head coach James Christensen said because of the start of the year, his guys know how to adjust to most things thrown at them.

T-R PHOTO BY THORN COMPTON • Marshalltown sophomore Jack Gruening makes a two-handed hit on the ball during the singles matches in the Bobcats’ 9-2 win over Grinnell on Monday.

“The wind is something we’ve had to deal with a couple of times this year so hopefully that wasn’t an excuse for any of the shots,” he said. “They know not to dwell on any of the elements, it’s the same for everybody.”

It’s a good thing Marshalltown (5-4) didn’t dwell on the conditions because the boys had their hands full with Grinnell (2-5). Though the Bobcats won the singles matches, three of those went to a third set, super tiebreaker, and two of the singles matches had at least one set decided by a set tiebreaker.

“Coming out of there with a 6-0 sweep at singles was pretty incredible honestly,” Christensen said. “With the way it happened, having so many close matches there, I think that speaks a lot to our guy’s mental makeup.”

Luke McKibben at No. 1 singles seemed to be cruising through Nick Jacobson after a 6-2 victory in the first set, but McKibben looked noticeably fatigued midway through the second set, which he lost 6-4. He bounced back strong in the third set, however, taking the victory with a 10-1 win in the super tiebreaker.

“Luke was feeling a little under the weather and he was fighting through it early but it kind of caught up to him in that second set,” Christensen said. “He was able to dig deep enough and find a couple of points. When it came down to it he found enough energy to get it done.”

T-R PHOTO BY THORN COMPTON

Jack Gruening at No. 2 singles was in a similar situation, as he won big in the first set as well, 6-2, but then fell in the second 7-5 and was down early in the third set.

“Jack went down 4-8 in the super tiebreaker then you could see him mentally steele himself, dig deep and come up with the 11-9 victory,” Christensen said. “That is so hard, to not start focusing on ‘I need to win five in a row,’ and just keep it one point at a time.”

Joe Kennedy at No. 5 singles was the exact opposite of the other three-set winners, as he looked a bit listless in the first set on the way to a 6-3 loss. Something awoke inside him between the first and second sets, however, as the normally mild-mannered senior transformed into a fierce competitor, spiking shots down emphatically and leaving Adam Brennan left scratching his head.

“Joe specifically was definitely passive in his first set, then he decided to go out there and dominate,” Christensen said. “He just changed his mindset a little bit and then he won 10-2 in the super tiebreaker, which is pretty dominant.”

Kadin Skala at No. 6 singles had the easiest win on paper, taking out Eli Ivanov in two sets, 6-3, 6-4, while Luke Smith and Jacob Smith each won in two sets at Nos. 3 and 4 doubles, but it definitely wasn’t easy.

T-R PHOTO BY THORN COMPTON

Both of the Smith cousins found themselves in a dog fight in the first set, with each tieing up at 6-6 and forcing a set tiebreaker. Luke Smith at No. 3 singles had to climb out of an 0-3 hole to force the tiebreaker with Kevin Werner, and he said once he got into the tiebreaker he could feel the set win coming.

“I just stayed calm most of the time,” he said. “The wind was really frustrating, boy let me tell you, but once I was up 6-3 that’s when I thought ‘I’m going to win this.'”

In the doubles matches, the usual doubles teams playing together made quick work of their opponents. McKibben and Luke Smith at No. 1 doubles handled Werner and Alex Farmer, 6-1, 6-1, while Alonzo Ceren and Carson Beals earned their way into competing at No. 5 doubles in practice and rewarded that decision with a 6-4, 6-7, (10-7) victory over Zach Leris and Dallas DeNeve.

“Alonzo and Carson won a challenge match to jump into our No. 5 doubles lineup and they came forward with a win,” Christensen said. “First varsity win for Carson Beals, that’s always a fun thing.”

The lone losses of the day came at Nos. 2 and 3 doubles, where Christensen decided to mix things up a bit. He had Gruening and Kennedy play together at No. 2 doubles and Jacob Smith and Skala go together at No. 3 doubles, and while both pairings showed some promise he said this late in the season they will probably table those groupings.

T-R PHOTO BY THORN COMPTON

“They didn’t play the best but you could see them improving as the day goes on,” Christensen said of his doubles experiments. “That’s probably not matchups we will go back to but some of those things keep you up at night and you wonder ‘what if?’ and tonight was a good night to try that out.”

There will be plenty of time for trying new things at home over the next week, as the Bobcats are in action in Marshalltown twice more on the varsity side and three more times with the junior varsity.

“It’s a blessing and a curse, we have a lot of great competition coming up starting with Dowling tomorrow,” he said. “They are a top-10 team, and then we have Lincoln on Thursday. We owe them one from last year, they took the last dual meet of the year from us 6-5 so that’s one our kids circled a while ago. The curse is we don’t have a lot of practice time, so we have to do some experimentation and try stuff out kind of on the fly.”

While the Bobcats are showing out on the courts, they will be helping out one of their own in the sidelines. Team manager Carissa King and her family are going through a tough time as their house burned down over the weekend, and Christensen said it is the least he and the team can do to help out someone who is always there to support them.

“This week we are trying to raise some funds for their family,” he said. “Gift cards to places like Wal-Mart, Target, HyVee, any place that can help get them through the next couple of weeks and anything to make it easier for them. They have given a lot, they are involved in a lot of stuff, and not just Carissa but the whole family. Marshalltown can certainly give some stuff back for them.”

Fans are encouraged to bring anything they are willing to donate to help the King family to any of the remaining home meets, either today against Dowling Catholic starting at 4 p.m., Thursday against Des Moines Lincoln or the junior varsity match against Cedar Falls on Thursday. The managers will have pink boxes for fans to leave their donation when they arrive.

Marshalltown 9, Grinnell 2

At Marshalltown

Singles

Luke McKibben (MHS) def. Nick Jacobson, 6-2, 4-6, (10-1)

Jack Gruening (MHS) def. Alex Farmer, 6-2, 5-7, (11-9)

Luke Smith (MHS) def. Kevin Werner, 7-5, 6-2

Jacob Smith (MHS) def. A.J. Wilkins, 7-6 (10-8), 7-5

Joe Kennedy (MHS) def. Adam Brennan, 3-6, 6-3, (10-2)

Kadin Skala (MHS) def. Eli Ivanov, 6-3, 6-4

Doubles

McKibben and L. Smith (MHS) def. Farmer and Werner, 6-1, 6-1

Jacobson and Wilkins (G) def. Gruening and Kennedy, 6-1, 7-5

Brennan and Ivanov (G) def. J. Smith and Skala, 7-5, 6-3

Jacob Eberle and David Brintnall (MHS) def. Lane Thompson and Noah Rees, 6-1, 7-5

Alonzo Ceren and Carson Beals (MHS) def. Zach Leris and Dallas DeNeve, 6-4, 6-7 (7-4), (10-7)