Platt picks up struggling Bobcats

Gaps in the lineup, inconsistent play and the tournament format forced the Marshalltown boys’ tennis team to try some new doubles pairings, but that’s far from unfamiliar territory for the Bobcats.

Sending its 16th and 17th new doubles tandems into action just six meets into the season, MHS settled for a tie for fifth place at its own six-team Bobcat Invitational on Saturday.

Most of Marshalltown’s points came from its top singles spot, as senior Kalei Platt went 2-1 en route to a third-place finish. One of the newly assembled doubles duos – juniors Kade Vopava and Andrew Walker – picked up a win in the championship round to collect fifth place.

Fort Dodge won both singles brackets and the No. 1 doubles position to pick up three of the four gold-medal performances for first place in the team standings, while Ames held off Southeast Polk for second. Fourth place went to Mason City, while Newton and the host Bobcats shared fifth.

It was something of a bitter result for a Marshalltown squad that walloped Newton 10-1 in dual meet action just 10 days earlier.

“I was definitely looking for some improvement over our last couple of performances, especially in the doubles teams,” said MHS coach James Christensen. “I kind of know what I’ve got from Kalei and Ryley (Faircloth) in singles, but doubles we’re still trying to feel out who works best with whom.

“We didn’t see a whole lot of that today, but we’re still trying to find some good chemistry. That improvement, I know it’s coming, we just haven’t seen it realized quite yet.”

Platt, who went 9-4 at No. 2 singles last season, is off to a 4-4 start as a senior. He went 2-1 on Saturday, bouncing back from an opening loss with back-to-back wins to net third place.

Ames freshman Andy Kim got an 8-6 victory over Platt during the second round of pool play, but Platt snapped back with an 8-3 triumph over Southeast Polk’s Zach Atzen.

Platt jumped out to a 4-1 lead during the bronze medal match with Mason City’s Josh VandeBerg, but the Mohawk freshman turned it around with three straight games. Platt regained a one-game lead and held it each time the two steady players swapped sides of the court, finally finishing off an 8-6 victory.

“You could tell (Platt) wasn’t himself his first match against Ames,” Christensen said. “That’s a match he probably should win, and when we play Ames again I’m sure that’s a match he’ll be looking to avenge. But he came back with some solid performances to win against Southeast Polk, a nice player there, and then beating VandeBerg is a real quality win. He definitely stepped up his game there and started hitting the ball like he was last Thursday against Centennial.”

Platt is typically on Marshalltown’s top doubles team, but the tournament format allows for two singles and two doubles pairings. Into the second singles spot stepped Faircloth, who endured a trio of defeats having never played above No. 5 singles in his career.

The junior got edged 8-5 by Ames’ Josh Zhao but fell 8-1 to Southeast Polk’s Luke Tully. In the fifth-place bout, Faircloth won the first game but fell behind and could not catch Mason City’s Matthew Biederman in an 8-6 outcome.

“That No. 2 spot for singles today, some of the teams had their No. 2 guy there, some of them had their 3-4-5-6 guy depending on how they stacked their doubles lineups, so (Ryley) was playing some real tough opponents there and for the most part played some good matches,” Christensen said.

The winningest Bobcat doubles team was a player short on Saturday, with Eric Weinberg missing from action. So Walker and Vopava joined up in the No. 1 doubles position and managed to claim just three games in two pool-play matches before beating Newton’s Alex Cron and Brian Jones in the fifth-place match, 8-3.

MHS sophomores Tony Smith and Vincent Zavala-Livengood shared the court for the first time as well. The duo showed signs of life by scoring at least five games in each of three losses, finishing with an 8-6 defeat at the hands of Ethan Pruisman and Tanner Flaherty from Mason City in the fifth-place bout.

“Kalei’s definitely a better singles player, kind of a step up competition-wise for the rest of our guys,” Christensen said. “With Andrew Walker not having his left-hand man in Weinberg, that’s tough for him. He and Kade struggled with what they were doing out there – they’d never played together before – but by the end, that final match, they kind of figured out what was going on and got a good victory.”

The Bobcats go back out on the road Tuesday with a CIML match at Des Moines Hoover, before returning home to face Southeast Polk on Thursday in a rematch of last year’s pre-substate match won 5-4 by MHS.

“(Southeast Polk) didn’t really graduate anybody so they’re going to be real tough, and that’ll be a good benchmark to see where we’re at so far this year,” said Christensen. “It’s a tough bell for the kids to answer but we’ll have them ready for the task.”