Green ‘Cats eager to get year started

For the many of these Bobcats, their first big-time varsity experience on the tennis court is still in front of them.

Though if preseason practices are any indicator, James Christensen’s club won’t be discouraged by any early challenges.

Entering the 2014 campaign with a mostly green but eager-to-learn lineup, the Marshalltown boys’ tennis team is already proving its competitiveness on the court and a drive to get better.

“I haven’t seen anybody that’s comfortable losing whether it’s a sprint at the end of practice, a drill, a game, or a match,” Christensen said. “These guys like to win and if they lose, they’re not happy and they want to know how to improve. They’re striving to get better so that’s a great thing to see.”

The Bobcats’ progression from March through May will be critical for a unit replacing 10 of its top 12 players including two-time state qualifier Ryan Shomo, who placed sixth in Class 2A singles last May.

Senior Kalei Platt is the lone returnee from 2013’s top-six and has locked up the No. 1 singles spot after playing at No. 2 as a junior. The four-year varsity stalwart has plenty of experience in big matches but has showed an improved composure on the court this spring.

“He just seems really calm on the court and comfortable out there. Even with all the wind we’ve been having, he just seems a lot more fluid and a lot more relaxed,” Christensen said. “He doesn’t seem to press as much as he has in the past and that’s something we hope to see during matches.”

If Platt can apply that same cool against his opponents, a trip to state is within his grasp after finishing just two games shy of a district quarterfinal win last year.

“He’s just a super athletic kid who can hit the ball with the best of them,” Christensen said.

Marshalltown, which finished 7-6 in dual play a year ago, also brings back another significant contributor in Kade Vopava. Vopava and Austin Sowers have swapped spots at No. 2 and 3 through the early season, while Andrew Walker, Ryley Faircloth, Eric Weinberg and Tony Smith will be in the mix for the final three singles positions.

Vincent Zavala-Livengood and Beau Ragland are the next top contenders to figure into the doubles lineup with about six or seven other players vying for the last spot in the top-10.

Christensen has emphasized court positioning, footwork and other fundamentals to his squad with a couple videos in the preseason, though the MHS coach believes the best education will come on the court in the heat of battle.

“With experience they’re going to understand where they need to be on the court, it’s something that you can’t really teach,” Christensen said. “You can teach it in the classroom, but when you’re finally putting it into motion and doing it, it’s so much more effective.”

The Bobcats will be tested early and often before their district meet in Ames on May 15.

“They’re all going to be tough matches. We don’t have any easy ones on our schedule, especially with our lack of experience,” said Christensen, who is joined by assistant coach Scott Smith. “We always come into (districts) with a lot of experience, we’ve been tested. Often times districts isn’t the toughest meet we’ve been in all year which is a great situation.”

The Bobcats battle Ames and West Des Moines Valley, which finished third and fourth, respectively, at state last spring. Marshalltown opens its home slate against Newton on Tuesday.

Once again, the Bobcats are seeking an above-.500 mark in dual play, while also looking to send an individual, a doubles team, or the entire squad to state.

“Last year we almost did all three of those things,” Christensen said of his team. “With Kalei back he’s got a good chance to make it through at that singles spot if he plays up to his ability at districts … We have enough athleticism on our team, if we can continue to improve we have a good chance of sneaking into that second or third substate spot.”