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CEDAR RAPIDS — Significant tennis accolades are often the byproduct of substantial individual focus.
But with the Iowa City West boys’ tennis team, a team-first demeanor has produced glory for all.
The top-ranked Trojans (12-0, 9-0 Mississippi Valley Conference) — winners of four of the last five Class 2A team state championships — are a resounding favorite to add another banner to their newly minted tennis complex.
With a month left in the season, West already owns six lopsided victories over teams that have been ranked in the Iowa Tennis Coaches Association top-10 poll.
“We’re happy where we are,” West Coach Mitch Gross said before the Trojans pasted second-ranked Cedar Rapids Washington, 8-1, Saturday at the Washington High School tennis courts. “We’ve played a pretty tough schedule. ... We’re a good team. We’re not going to make any bones about it. There’s other good teams out there, also. You’re always a little anxious to see how you match up with the other great teams across the state. So far, we’ve liked what we’ve seen.”
When historical successes (no 2A program can equal the Trojans’ seven state titles) is combined with current dominance, one could understand a degree of overconfidence. Not so, insists Gross.
“I think you can call us a lot of things, we’re not overconfident,” Gross said. “We respect all of our opponents. We know that to repeat, we’re going to have to play very, very well and be at the top of our game.”
The Trojans are again led by seniors Jiung Jung and Cole Schneider. Jung is a two-time defending singles state champion, while Schneider is a 2016 doubles state runner-up with sophomore teammate Jack Wenzel.
Both Jung and Schneider will play collegiate tennis in the fall. Schneider will reunite with brother Trent Schneider at Luther, while Jung is deciding between Swarthmore (Pa.) College and Pomona College in Claremont, Calif.
“I’m not sure there is a better one-two punch in the state,” Gross said. “It takes a lot of pressure off guys at the bottom of the lineup.”
Plenty of West’s vanquished opponents have strong players in the top half of the lineup. Where the Trojans continually make hay is at the bottom half, where junior Brad DiLeo and sophomores Sam Shin and Sasha Chackalackal have consistently delivered wins.
“I think it’s really huge for us,” Schneider said. “It just shows how deep we are as a team and how confident we are playing as one team right now.”
Only once in the last 14 years has one 2A school (Des Moines Roosevelt, 2009) achieved the trifecta of a singles, doubles and team state championship in the same season. Coincidentally, that also featured the last three-time singles state champion (Charlie Caris) in Iowa. Jung and the Trojans have the ability to equal both feats.
“First and foremost, I’d definitely like to leave on a team state championship,” Jung said. “Just try to make some good memories with my teammates and work hard every day and hopefully I can do well individually, as well. (A third singles state championship) would be really special. That would be, honestly, a really perfect way for me to finish out my high school career.”
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