Jags jolt Bobcats in home opener

Centennial wins close matches, sweeps MHS

T-R PHOTO BY THORN COMPTON - Marshalltown senior Luke Smith makes a running forehanded strike at the ball during his singles match against Ankeny Centennial’s Will Blevins on Tuesday in Marshalltown. Smith lost to Blevins, 6-0, 6-1, and the Bobcats were swept by the Jaguars, 11-0.

It was the home opener for the Marshalltown boys tennis team on Tuesday, but it was visiting Ankeny Centennial that got to do all the celebrating.

The Jaguars swept the Bobcats, 11-0, but that doesn’t put into perspective how close nearly every match was. Five of the 11 matches went into a third-set super-tiebreaker, but of those five MHS didn’t win a single one, though they lost four of those by two points each and one by three points.

Bobcat head boys tennis coach James Christensen said it was a bizarre turn of events that saw his boys swept by the No. 6 team in Class 2A, as ranked by the Iowa Tennis Coaches Association.

“It’s a rare occurance to see five tiebreakers to begin with, then to lose all five is rough,” he said. “It says two things about your team: it says they are competing really hard and hanging in there with one of the top teams in the state, but it also says a lot about how we are having trouble finishing off sets.”

The Marshalltown boys were behind in the count before the meet even started, as usual No. 1 Luke McKibben was out dealing with a shoulder strain, meaning everyone in the lineup had to move up a spot. Christensen said his guys all handled that sudden change well, despite not picking up a victory.

T-R PHOTO BY THORN COMPTON - Marshalltown freshman Kevin Strand reaches for a ball during his singles match against Ankeny Centennial’s James Cole on Tuesday at the MHS Tennis Courts. Strand lost to Cole in a third-set super-tiebreaker.

“With Luke stepping out, this would have been an easy match for guys to kind of go in the tank a little bit and give in to Centennial,” Christensen said. “They did exactly the opposite, everybody stepped up to their new position and played above themselves, to be perfectly honest.”

With McKibben out, Luke Smith stepped into the No. 1 spot to face Centennial’s Will Blevins, who was the 2A consolation champion in the state singles tournament last year.

Smith didn’t take a set from Blevins but he did take a game, losing 6-0, 6-1, and accomplishing his goal of at least making Blevins work for the win.

Jack Gruening moved into the No. 2 singles spot and it seemed he was rolling early on against Samson Densmore, but Densmore came back to win the first set by a 7-5 decision, then he swept Gruening 6-0 in the second to give Gruening his first individual loss of the year.

The only other straight-set match of singles was in the No. 6 match, where Drake Doolittle was swept by the Jaguars’ Nick Mackaman, 6-1, 6-0.

T-R PHOTO BY THORN COMPTON - Marshalltown tennis player Ethan Benscoter jumps for a slash at the ball during the doubles matches in the Bobcats’ 11-0 loss to Ankeny Centennial in Marshalltown on Tuesday.

The Nos. 3, 4 and 5 singles matches all went into the super tiebreaker, and they were all won by Centennial in different ways.

At No. 3 singles, MHS freshman Kevin Strand had Jaguar senior James Cole on the ropes. Strand lost the first set in a narrow 7-6 decision, but he took the second, 6-2, to force the super tiebreaker. The tiebreaker set was close throughout until Cole managed to get ahead by two and stay there to win, 11-9, but Christensen said he was incredibly proud of his young competitor in Strand.

“He was playing so confident and beyond his years,” Christensen said of Strand. “You see the senior across the court from him melting down basically, and Kevin is just even-keel and calm. Maybe on the inside he was topsy turvy but on the outside he was calm, and that showed up in his tennis.”

In the No. 4 singles match, Jacob Eberle lost the first set to Zach Peterson, 6-4, but he battled back and flipped the script to take the second set, 6-4. The tiebreaker set is where the fireworks started, as neither Eberle or Peterson could seemingly gain ground. Eberle eventually took a one-point lead at 11-10 and again at 12-11, but Peterson recovered and won three-straight points to take a 14-12 victory in the tiebreaker.

Christensen said on paper Peterson should have been able to handle Eberle better, but Eberle’s methodical approach keeps him in games against quality opponents.

T-R PHOTO BY THORN COMPTON

“Jacob has an effect on players, he is going to play a certain way, he doesn’t care how you play, he is going to drag you into his world,” Christensen said. “It is an incredible experience to watch, it doesn’t matter who it is, nobody on my team wants to go up against him in practice because it is a grind. He is going to make you hit every shot in your book to get it done. If you don’t do that, he’s going to walk all over you in the gentlest way possible.”

At No. 5 singles, Jacob Smith was struggling mightily in the first set on the way to a 6-2 loss to Joel Unick. Something clicked in the second set, however, as Smith came back and won, 7-6, to force the super tiebreaker. Once again it was a close set throughout until the very end, when Unick was able to roll off three-straight points and win, 10-7.

Christensen said Smith, who has lost his last two matches in a super tiebreaker, is still working on things and will continue to develop as the year goes along.

“He’s a guy who is an athlete but still learning. Even though he’s a senior, he’s still learning to play tennis and he’s figuring out what style is going to work best for him,” Christensen said. “Every so often he might dump a first set but he’s going to figure it out, he’s a smart enough athlete and a big enough competitor that he’s going to figure out what to do to give himself a chance.”

The doubles matches were similar to the singles, close but not enough for Marshalltown to come away victorious. Gruening and Strand lost to Densmore and Cole at No. 1 doubles, 6-4, 6-3; the Smith cousins, Luke and Jacob, fell to Blevins and Peterson, 6-4, 6-3; and Eberle and Davis were defeated by Unick and Matt Den Adel, 6-1, 6-0.

T-R PHOTO BY THORN COMPTON

The super-tiebreakers showed up again in the final two doubles matches, as Ethan Benscoter and Nic Price were beaten by Mackaman and Jonah Hegstad, 6-7, 6-2, (11-9) and Lucas Kramer and David Brintnall were taken out by Sage Peterson and Clayton Livingston, 2-6, 6-1, (11-9).

Christensen said the losses for his final two doubles teams in the super-tiebreaker might have hurt the most.

“Both of them were just heartbroken coming off,” he said. “You want to win so badly and tennis matters a lot to those guys, you can tell. They’ve worked so hard this offseason to get into this position and to be so close, both of them losing by just two points, was brutal. The nice thing about the loss is any time you lose you are a little more receptive to those coaching points the next day and there’s definitely some stuff, positioning in particular, that we need to clean up with them.”

Going back to the season-opening meet at West Des Moines Valley, the Bobcats have now actually lost seven-straight super-tiebreakers, which Christensen said has prompted him to change things up in practice.

“We need to come up with some drills and some situations to simulate that a little bit better,” he said. “That’s what we will be doing tomorrow hopefully if the rain holds off.”

Marshalltown has a day off to lick its wounds and regroup before hosting Southeast Polk on Thursday at 4 p.m. Christensen said the beginning of the season hasn’t quite gone according to plan, but there’s still plenty of great performances to build off of and it is still very early in the schedule.

“It’s been an incredibly dissatisfying last two matches,” he said. “We honestly didn’t play that well against Council Bluffs Abraham Lincoln but came away with an 11-0, then to play pretty well against Valley and really well against Centennial and to come away with a 1-21 record out of that doesn’t speak to the level that these guys are playing at. I think that these next few matches will give us a better picture of where we are as a team.

“They don’t want to practice tomorrow, they want Southeast Polk right now. They want to get back on these courts and compete and get some wins.”

Ankeny Centennial 11, Marshalltown 0

At Marshalltown

Singles

Will Blevins (AC) def. Luke Smith, 6-0, 6-1

Samson Densmore (AC) def. Jack Gruening, 7-5, 6-0

James Cole (AC) def. Kevin Strand, 7-6, 2-6, (11-9)

Zach Peterson (AC) def. Jacob Eberle, 6-4, 4-6, (14-12)

Joel Unick (AC) def. Jacob Smith, 6-2, 6-7, (10-7)

Nick Mackaman (AC) def. Drake Davis, 6-1, 6-0

Doubles

Densmore and Cole (AC) def. Gruening and Strand, 6-4, 6-3

Blevins and Peterson (AC) def. L. Smith and J. Smith, 6-4, 6-3

Unick and Matt Den Adel (AC) def. Eberle and Davis, 6-1, 6-0

Mackaman and Jonah Hegstad (AC) def. Ethan Benscoter and Nic Price, 6-7, 6-2, (11-9)

Sage Peterson and Clayton Livingston (AC) def. Lucas Kramer and David Brintnall, 2-6, 6-1, (11-9)