Rookies bolster boys’ tennis numbersInexperienced Panthers will have to compete with each other to improve as season progesses
Mt. Pleasant boys’ tennis has a big team this year — more players than Coach Tyler Rodgers has ever had to work with before.
That’s the good news.
The bad news is that while there are many players, very few of them have any experience, and it will likely take the team a while to figure out a lineup.
The Panthers graduated their top singles player from last year, Caleb Zimmerman, who holds the school’s career record for most singles wins with 32.
They also lost Jack Bell, Kevin Nguyen and Blake Allender — three other varsity players — to graduation.
They are left with a young team that lacks varsity experience. Those who have varsity singles experience will have to find a new doubles partner for the year.
“We do not have any seniors and only return three players with varsity experience, none of which played doubles together last year,” Rodgers said. “It may take some time to find the top eight players, and then find out who plays well together in doubles.”
The three returners with varsity experience are juniors Chase Higginbotham, Zach Schmitz and Matthew Zihlman.
Higginbotham was the team’s No. 2 player last season, behind only Zimmerman; Schmitz was No. 4 and Zihlman was No. 6.
Those three will be team leaders for the Panthers this season, according to their coach.
“We may not have any seniors, but the returning juniors all lead by example,” Rodgers said.
Other returners are sophomores Jared Batty, Blake Wickham, Sterling Wickham and Alex Sandeen.
“The returning players from last year spent some time over the summer at camps and that should pay off for them this year,” Rodgers said.
The other 11 players on the roster are all out for the first time.
“Several players are out for the first time but are eager to get started,” Rodgers said. “There are (18)kids playing, which is the highest number since I have been here.”
Rodgers is starting his fifth year at the helm of the boys’ tennis team. He has a career record of 22-19.
This year may get off to a rocky start for the Panthers, but with some practice, they should see big improvement as the season goes on.
“We are very young and inexperienced, but if everybody is willing to work hard and put in some extra time, we should be competitive by the end of the year,” Rodgers said.
Formidable opponents on the schedule and in the conference for the Panthers this year will be Keokuk and Fairfield.
The Chiefs return a tough lineup from top to bottom.
“They should be good, 1-6,” Rodgers said.
For their part, the Trojans have two talented players at the top of their roster, who will be tough for Mt. Pleasnat to handle.
In order to be competitive with those teams, the Panthers will also have to be competitve with each other.
“It will be important that players compete throughout the season to move up spots on the roster,” Rodgers said. “It may take a while, and it may take lots of mixing and matching to find the right doubles teams.”
The Panthers are scheduled to open the season Tuesday, April 2, when they host Centerville at East Lake Park.