Tireless Shomo scores state berth

For it being everything Ryan Shomo has worked so hard for over the last year, the Marshalltown High School senior’s berth into the Class 2A state tennis tournament could not have been more anticlimactic.

But ultimately satisfying, nevertheless.

The Bobcat senior left-hander secured his place in the 2A state singles competition May 24-25 at the Veterans Memorial Tennis Center in Cedar Rapids by breezing through his district bracket Friday at the MHS tennis courts, catching a pair of power naps sometime amidst his 3-hour wait between the semifinals and finals.

Shomo improved to 11-2 in singles play this season, surrendering just five total games in three matches to become Marshalltown’s first state singles qualifier since Joey Lankelma and Kyle Krabbe both advanced in 2005.

“It feels great, it means a lot to me,” Shomo said of the district title. “I’ve been waiting four years for this, I’m glad I was able to make it through the whole day without any glitches.

“I’m ready to get after it at state.”

It will mark Shomo’s second state meet appearance, as he and then-senior Derek Platt pushed through to the 2A doubles competition in 2011. Last spring, the Bobcats were sent east for districts and Shomo had to settle for third place in the singles field.

“Last year wasn’t a lot of fun losing and getting third place,” he said. “I didn’t want to be in that position again.”

After receiving an opening-round bye as the top seed, Shomo mowed down Brock Hill of Ankeny, 6-0, 6-0, in the quarterfinals. In the match that ultimately determines state qualification, Shomo swept Mason City’s Clayton Sampson in straight sets, 6-1, 6-1, to advance to the district finals.

But a barnburner of a quarterfinal involving Marshalltown junior Kalei Platt, the third seed, and Ankeny’s Josh Gerstner went three full sets and absorbed better than 2 1/2 hours. Platt, seeking his first win in three years as a district singles competitor, could not close out Gerstner in the third set and fell 5-7, 6-4, 6-4.

Platt led 4-1 in the third set but appeared gunshy with his typically powerful forehand smash. Instead, Gerstner moved on to face second-seeded Sam Rice of Southeast Polk and again forced a deciding third set. Rice, however, had the upper hand late and gained his first state tournament berth with a 6-4, 4-6, 6-0 triumph.

The Southeast Polk junior had little left to offer up against Shomo, who had swept him 6-1, 6-1 on Monday. Shomo nearly matched it with a 6-1, 6-2 triumph in the long-awaited district singles title bout.

Shomo’s semifinal win ended just after noon and the finals finally got under way at approximately 3:20 p.m. A handful of Bobcat tennis fans even took the opportunity to stoke up some charcoal briquettes and enjoy their own tailgate lunch with the abundance of time in between by grilling burgers nearby.

Rice, a junior, broke Shomo’s serve to make it 3-1 in the first set, but Shomo responded by breaking Rice twice and neatly wrapped up the first set, 6-1.

Shomo broke Rice’s service game once during the second set and rounded out an easy victory, working the tiring Rice back and forth with his strong top-spin forehands from the baseline.

An occasional trip to the net by Shomo brought the bored Bobcat fan base to at least offer up a golf clap or two.

“After I got going I felt kind of back to normal,” Shomo said of his elongated wait between matches. “I just had to remind myself to stay focused and keep playing every point. (Rice) played a good match, I feel I played well to beat him.

“I was just looking to wear him down. He told me he was cramping up but I didn’t want him to not finish the match. I always like to play them at their best.”

The Bobcats also advanced as a team to the preliminary substate round for the second time in three years. They’ll host third-place finisher Southeast Polk this morning at 9 a.m., with the winner moving on to next Saturday’s substate semifinals.

“We knew we’d have to play near-perfect tennis to get first place,” said MHS coach James Christensen. “Ankeny is a heck of a team.”

Marshalltown (6-4) defeated the Rams on Monday night in Pleasant Hill, 8-3, but postseason duals consist of six singles and only three doubles matches. Two of the Bobcats’ doubles wins came from the Nos. 4 and 5 positions, while three other matches went into third-set tiebreakers, leaving plenty of room for Christensen’s concern.

“It’s a different format … so we’re going to have to play really well,” he said. “Those 2-3-4 singles matches are going to be huge. We won some tiebreakers on Monday and those could have swung the match either way.”

Marshalltown’s district doubles teams helped the Bobcats score enough points to pick up second place in the six-team event. Seniors Adam Podhajsky and Drayton Lents gained the fourth seed and got a bye before beating Mason City’s Alex Noto and Nathan Betz in straight sets, 6-2, 6-4.

The MHS duo was then defeated by the eventual doubles champions from Ankeny, Luke Benna and Tabor VanDerPol, 6-1, 6-1. In the third-place bout, Mason City’s Sahan Jayawardena and JT Rottinghaus fought off the Bobcats’ valiant comeback attempt, 6-0, 3-6, (10-4).

Marshalltown’s unseeded tandem of Blake Gimbel and Jameson Eberline netted a first-round victory, turning away Jensen Hastings and Jackson Nguyen of Des Moines East in a 6-1, 6-0 rout.

Gimbel and Eberline put up a fight in the quarterfinals but fell to Ankeny’s other state-bound pair, Ryan Marshall and Grant Menadue, in a 6-2, 6-3 outcome.

Benna and VanDerPol eventually posted a 6-1, 6-1 win over their teammates in the doubles final, but both pairs advanced to state.

“Blake and Jameson played very well, and Adam and Drayton got a huge victory over Mason City that could have meant the difference between second, third or fourth place,” Christensen said. “Kalei had an excellent season in singles. He was just a little off today.

“He’s a beast when he’s on, but he was just pushing it back over and keeping the point alive, and the Ankeny kid barely outlasted him.”

Ankeny takes the bye into the substate semifinals, and the Hawks will host next Saturday’s round at 9 a.m. The winner between Marshalltown and Southeast Polk will face Ames, while Ankeny will meet either Fort Dodge or Sioux City North. The substate winner advances to the state team tournament on May 28.