Bobcat girls will rely on quality in ‘14 not quantity

Dennis Paul wishes the names on his roster stretched further down the page, though he can’t complain about the veteran experience near the top.

Returning nine letterwinners on a 19-member squad, the Marshalltown girls’ tennis team will rely on quality over quantity as it looks to improve upon last year’s 2-7 record and end a four-year absence from the state tournament.

Junior Megan Riemenschneider leads a talented veteran corps that includes five seniors and four juniors in the mix for the 10 varsity spots.

“We’ve got good experience coming back, in fact, it may be a little bit stronger than last year,” Paul said. “Megan has locked up the No. 1 position at this point. That’s not to say she’s going to have it the entire season but at this point she is head and shoulders above the other girls.”

Riemenschneider, a key doubles contributor for the Bobcats as a sophomore, worked on her game throughout the offseason to rise to the top spot in the lineup.

“Her forehand has improved a lot as well as her serving. Her whole game has changed,” Paul said of Riemenschneider. “Megan has been playing a lot at the Ames Indoor Racquet Club. She was a good player last year but she’s a much better player this year coming into the first practice.”

The Bobcats will need several more players to emerge as they look to replace four varsity mainstays in Rachel Faircloth, Rhetta Wenk, Maggie Kelehan and Megan Rachuy.

The rest of the varsity lineup remains fluid with challenge matches determining the early pecking order. Paul, who enters his fourth season as the head coach and 14th in the program, will employ that practice throughout the season to shape his roster for each meet. Seniors Kathleen Ferrin, Samantha Tocheri, Ashley Beaty and Chloe Kuehner, along with juniors Yelitza Patricio and Jenna Jaeckel have established themselves as early favorites in the singles lineup.

Kuehner, who is starting her first season for the Bobcats, has previous experience on the court and is climbing up the roster by already winning several challenge matches. Senior Brenda Livengood, junior Ellen Podhajsky and sophomores Kaelin Lents and Megan Emerson also will vie for a varsity position, while freshman Immaculate Edwin has shown some early promise.

Doubles tandems also will take shape as the season progresses with Paul mixing and matching to see what combinations work the best.

Starting each practice with some running and calisthenics, second-year assistant coach Blake Cutright is once again bolstering the Bobcats’ conditioning, which proved critical in several tiebreaker matches last season.

Half of the Class 2A state team participants came from the CIML last season with Urbandale earning runner-up honors, while Ames claimed fourth after a four-year title reign. Paul also expects West Des Moines Valley to be tough, while Newton will provide a good litmus test in the season opener Tuesday.

Ames, Valley and Urbandale are just a few of the teams that benefit from indoor court availability to improve their game throughout the offseason.

“It’s always tough to play the teams that have (indoor) facilities,” Paul said. “Ames and Des Moines have indoor racquet clubs and the girls in those communities use them year-round.”

Paul believes more indoor courts in Marshalltown would help boost interest in the sport. Though that won’t stop the Bobcats from setting the bar high.

“I’d like to see Megan get into the state singles competition and also take at least one doubles team,” Paul said. “It depends on who we’re going to meet in the regionals before state.”