IR boys' tennis gets swinging with 3-0 record at season's start
The Indian River High School’s boys’ varsity tennis team has been a force in the Henlopen South, and the past few seasons have come down to tiebreakers against rivaling Seaford. But Paris Mitchell Jr., head coach for the Indians, is hoping that returning starters and opponents’ adversities will work in his favor this year to bring the division championship back to Indian River. So far, they haven’t disappointed. The Indians have begun the season on a high note, earning comfortable wins in their first three matches of the year.
Indian River traveled to Lake Forest last week for their season opener on Thursday, March 22, where they defeated the Spartans, 5-0. They followed up with a 4-1 win at home over St. Thomas More last Friday, March 23, and another 5-0 win over the Panthers of Polytech earlier this week, despite some windy conditions. In each match that the Indians have won, every player averaged less than one point allowed per game from opponents, and has denied their opposition a third set, picking up convincing victories.
The Indians’ first-doubles team of Mac Gray and Nick Izzo is the only starting position changed from last year due to graduation, as this season yields a strong core of veteran upperclassmen and returning talent.
“We’re getting the majority of our starters back this year,” said Mitchell. “All of our singles players [have returned] and our second-doubles team of Ethan Kleinstuber and Josh Mercer [has] been filling that first-singles spot this year. I think we have a good chance at getting the South.”
Both Mercer and Kleinstuber are seniors, as are Jung Son and Daniel Seeley, who rounded out the second- and third-singles positions, respectively, during last year’s season. The top spot, at first-singles, once again belongs to David Marshall, a junior on the team who comes from a strong tennis background.
At last year’s Henlopen Conference, Seaford and Indian River both topped the charts coming out of the Henlopen South division, while Caesar Rodney dominated the Henlopen Conference out of the North, before going on to secure the boys’ championship title at the state tournament. IR finished just behind Seaford in the conference team results, as both of the Indians’ doubles teams earned second-place, falling to their Caesar Rodney counterparts. Seeley finished in third for third-singles, while Marshall finished fourth for first-singles.
“We really wanted to win the Henlopen South last year,” said Mitchell, “but I really like our chances this season. Seaford lost their No. 1 player, so that moves their returning guys up a spot. They also lost their first-doubles team, like us, so they’ll be rebuilding there, too.”
Mitchell added that practices and upcoming scrimmages will help fill out the second-doubles positions this season, which might see a couple of sophomores assume the roles.
“Caesar Rodney is always a strong team out of the North,” added Mitchell, “and as defending state champs, you never really know what they’re going to be bringing. I’m sure they’ll still be loaded up with talent, but it will definitely be interesting. Dover – another strong team in the Henlopen conference – took a step back, graduating some of their big starters.”
The Indians finished up the regular season last year with an impressive 11-2 record, only falling in their opening match against Seaford and dropping a mid-season match to Caesar Rodney. Dover and Brandywine gave them some competition, but the Indians edged 3-2 victories in both matches. The rest of their bouts were won rather comfortably, as they picked up 4-1 and 5-0 wins through most of the season.
“I think we could be the top team in the Southern Division this year, and maybe the second-best team in the conference,” said Mitchell. “We’re really using these practices and scrimmages to help their skills progress. I want them to get their timing down. By the start of the season, I want our guys to be in match condition. We’re working on trying not to double fault and fixing our ground strokes. Movement and timing are the key factors at the start of the season.”
The early-season loss to Seaford last year, as well as some of the conference play, hangs with Mitchell, which he imagines is the catalyst for their strong start to this year.
“I think [last year’s] Seaford match is still fresh in their minds,” he said. “Sometimes, you want matches like that to eat at them a little and fuel their performance, but you don’t want them to wear it on their sleeves. If we bring a little attitude to the courts and work hard where we need to, I think we’ll be alright.”
This week, the Indians were poised to see just how they stacked up, as they hosted Seaford on Thursday, March 29 (after Coastal Point press deadline). They continue this week with a match at Dover, set for 4 p.m. on Friday, March 30, before hosting Caesar Rodney on Tuesday, April 3.