Kokomo’s boys tennis team rode a solid singles lineup to a repeat Kokomo Sectional championship last season.
If the Wildkats hope to make it a three-peat this year, they will need to reload the singles spots following a pair of unexpected losses.
Pablo Ketterer, who played No. 2 last year, decided not to return for another year at the international school amid the coronavirus pandemic. And senior Jackson Richards, who played No. 3, is not playing this year in order to focus on basketball.
There is good news for the Kats, who had a 15-10 record last year. Senior Jon Callane returns for his his second full season at No. 1.
“We’re coming along,” coach Shawn Flanary said. “Jon is playing really well. He’s a senior and our team leader. He has put a lot of time into this sport and is playing good tennis. After that, we had some uncertainty with things.”
Flanary said Ketterer’s loss was a big blow.
“He was pretty much a guaranteed win against everyone in the state at 2 except maybe Carmel and North Central,” Flanary said.
Flanary noted Ketterer’s presence helped in more ways than matches. He pushed Callane in practices.
Callane is looking to build on a strong 2019 season that saw him make the All-North Central Conference and All-District 3 teams.
“It’s tough because there wasn’t a lot of opportunities to play statewide or tournaments this summer, so he’s probably not as match sharp [as normal],” Flanary said. “But the nice thing is he has a coach who is halfway decent and can play against him in practice and push him a little bit. That’s been a little helpful.”
Fellow senior Taylor Duncan has stepped up as a solid practice opponent — and a contender for the No. 2 spot. He played doubles last year.
“Taylor is a baseball guy. When baseball was canceled this summer, he was able to work quite a bit locally on tennis and he’s playing really well,” Flanary said. “He’s an athletic kid and he’s able to keep a lot of balls in play and work with Jon. That’s been a good surprise.”
Juniors Ty Lauderbaugh and Miki Sanchez and freshman Jayleb Walsh are candidates for the No. 3 spot. Lauderbaugh played No. 1 doubles last year.
Sanchez is an international student. Flanary said he is a padel player. Padel is a racket sport that combines the elements of tennis, squash and badminton.
Senior Drew Swain is a lock for a doubles spot. He is returning from last year’s lineup. Duncan, Lauderbaugh and Sanchez could play doubles. Also in the mix for spots are juniors Isaac Elkin, Brandon Hansen and Caleb Wallace, sophomore Jacob Walker and freshman Andrew Guerre.
“We’re lacking the experience we could’ve had, but I feel good about the kids we have filling those spots,” Flanary said. “The nice thing is we have some depth. Like a lot of schools, we didn’t have a lot of time in the summer so it’s going to take awhile to get settled into things.”
Flanary sees Harrison, with a loaded singles lineup, as the heavy favorite in the NCC. He said Marion looks solid as well.
As for the sectional, Flanary said Northwestern looks like a team on the rise.
“I really liked that team a lot last year, I felt like they competed against us really well. They return their whole team so we know that they’re dangerous,” he said.
Kokomo opens today with a home match against Plymouth.
The following are looks at the other Howard County teams.
The Panthers (14-9 record, sectional runner-up last season) have plenty of spots to fill.
“We have 18 guys on the roster this year. Out of those 18, only three have extensive varsity experience,” coach Judson Quinn said. “A couple of [the other] players have appeared in varsity matches here and there, but haven’t been full-time varsity starters.”
The primary returning players are senior Matt Tuchscherer and juniors Dylan Collins and Connor Beeler. Last season, Tuchscherer had a 7-10 record at No. 3 singles, Collins went 9-3 at No. 2 doubles (and 6-4 at JV No. 1 singles) and Beeler was 11-8 at No. 2 doubles with a few singles matches sprinkled in.
Junior Parker Dean and sophomore Mitchell Dean are candidates for spots. Parker Dean is back with the team after taking his sophomore year off.
“They bring a great positive attitude and a strong work ethic to the team,” Quinn said.
Quinn projects senior Arie Lowe as “a rock in our doubles lineup.”
“As always, our lineup is subject to change, but we’ll start off with Beeler and Tuchscherer leading the singles lineup with combinations of Collins, the Deans and Lowe at doubles,” Quinn said, noting he likes the core players’ flexibility to play singles or doubles.
Freshman Miles Bowley is in the mix for the remaining singles spot after playing No. 1 on the Panthers’ middle school team last year.
Depth comes from sophomores Luke Mawbey and Zach Gilbert and freshman Evan Butcher.
“Our goals are simple. Get better every time we step onto the court,” Quinn said. “Each player has a new role on the team this year, so our focus is on improvement — physically, tactically, and mentally. I’m excited about this group of guys and our goal is to keep getting better so that we remain a competitive force in our conference and are ready for October tennis.”
Western opens today with a road match against Carroll.
The Tigers look ready to build on their 11-7 record last season. They return all seven players from their sectional lineup and two additional players also have varsity experience.
“The tough part is we only have seven spots to fill,” co-coach Matt Woods said. “We will probably find ourselves working through a rotation for a good portion of the season.”
Junior Cole Wise is a veteran at No. 1 singles and classmates Adam Morrow, Caden Geier, Tate Mullens and Austin Robinson also are singles players. Wise, Morrow and Geier filled the three spots in the Tigers’ sectional lineup last season.
“Cole mainly played 1 singles for us last year, but is being battled everyday,” Woods said. “Caden, Adam, Tate and Austin are all in the mix at singles, but could see time at doubles as well.”
Those players also could contribute in doubles play. Seniors Addison Horner and Will Lovelace and sophomores Ethan Kearney and Clayton Griswold also are in the mix for doubles time.
“We are so deep this year and have so many combinations. Coach [Mike] Wise and I just have to evaluate and come up with a lineup that gives us the best chance to succeed in the postseason,” Woods said.
Woods said the Tigers’ goals include bettering their 2019 record and making a strong showing in the Hoosier Conference.
“West Lafayette is a power in our conference and so competing with them at every position is something we want to see,” he said. “The main goal is a sectional championship. We have a pretty talented sectional so that’s always a tall task but something we are shooting to attain this year. I am not sure what team doesn’t want to win sectionals though.”
Northwestern’s season begins Tuesday with a visit to Carroll.
The Comets (7-11 last season) have a new look following heavy graduation losses. Sophomore Zhayne Kelly is the lone varsity regular back. He manned a doubles position in an otherwise all-senior lineup last year.
“This is definitely a rebuilding year for us,” coach Tricia Anderson said. “We will take it one match at a time and focus on improving throughout the season.”
The Comets have no seniors. The 10-player roster shows three juniors, three sophomores and four freshmen.
“We had a few other players [in addition to Kelly] play varsity last year when we had injuries and such,” Anderson said. “Levi Lapp got some varsity experience as did Ian Haley and Barak Price. We do have some freshmen, Jase Cloum and Luke Laubenstein, who have potential and are giving our upperclassmen some competition for lineup spots.”
Anderson said the lineup remains undecided heading into today’s opener against Frankton.
“Zhayne Kelly will likely fill our 1 singles spot. However, he will be ineligible for the first couple of matches due to not having 10 practices in. We’re still looking at possibilities for doubles and 2 and 3 singles,” she said.
Overall, Anderson’s main goals for the season are for the players to grow their games and to learn to appreciate the sport.
“I want the boys to understand that success in any sport depends on the time and effort they put in during practice and in the offseason,” she said. “I want to give Zhayne the level of preparation that he needs to be a contender at 1 as well as give the other guys the level of preparation they need to be better contenders at their positions.
“The freshmen are improving every day. If they stick with it, they’ll see success as they move through high school.”
Eastern visits Frankton today to start the season.
New coach Conner Leicht likes what he has seen so far.
“We started practices and it’s been really fun,” he said. “The kids are great, they’re hard working. They’re all returning so it’s been really easy. We don’t have to go over stuff. We have three seniors and they’re great leaders. They have taken the two younger players under their wing and have helped them in practice.”
The seniors are Ethan Klepinger, Kendall Lanning and Nathan Keene. They’ll fill the singles lineup.
“Ethan will be my No. 1,” Leicht said. “He got to go to three or four camps this summer. He has been putting in a lot of work. From last year to this year, it’s a big step for him.
“Kendall and Nathan are two completely opposite players. Nathan is more finesse and setting up shots and Kendall is mostly power.”
Junior Evan Sleek and sophomore Josh Parker round out the lineup and will form a doubles team. Leicht is hoping to find at least two more players in order to have a full lineup.
Leicht said the seniors are hungry for success after the Titans went winless last year.
“The seniors want to be above .500, but we play some tough schools and we play in a couple tough tournaments and bigger schools. To do that, we’re going to need a couple more players out so we don’t just forfeit a point. But we have some strong singles players so I think we’re going to be a tough match for our opponents,” he said.
Taylor hosts Tipton on Aug. 26 for its season opener.