116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
MARION — Kyle Lassen has competed against some of the best players in the state of Iowa during his high school tennis career.
While there still are many good players remaining, the 2021 season could be the year Lassen, a senior at Cedar Rapids Jefferson, finally gets his chance to shine.
As a freshman and sophomore, Lassen played against the like of Rami Scheetz (Cedar Rapids Washington) and Luke Van Donslear (Linn-Mar), both playing tennis at the NCAA Division I level now, and Rami Hemaidan (Cedar Rapids Kennedy), who plays for Division III power Coe.
'I'm not sure anybody in the (Mississippi Valley Conference) is going to be playing at that level this year,' said J-Hawks Coach Tim Preston. 'Kyle having the chance to compete against those guys early in his career was both a great challenge as well as a look at the time and commitment it takes to get to that level.'
Lassen was 10-5 in singles and 15-4 in doubles as a sophomore in 2019. He would have been one of the top players in the area last season if not for COVID-19 forcing the season to be canceled.
'Losing last year's season was saddening, but I've managed to practice relatively consistently throughout this past year, and have even gotten a good amount of matches in,' he said. 'For the first couple months of the pandemic, however, my options for hitting were very limited. I remember setting up a rope to act like a net against my garage wall so that I could hit groundstrokes and slices off of the wall.'
Lassen also had the advantage of being able to practice with his sister Emma, who plays No. 1 singles for Coe.
'As soon as I found outdoor courts that were open, my sister and I would take a bucket of balls and run drills with each other fairly consistently,' he said. 'Overall, I was happy with how often I was able to practice.'
Preston believes Lassen is in position to have a strong senior season.
'What stands out about Kyle is his ability to be aggressive without having to get out of his comfort zone,' Preston said. 'He's got a very good serve, he has a big forehand, moves well and is long and athletic. His normal shots are enough to hurt just about all of his opponents without him having to be in some kind of all-out attack mode.'
When asked to describe his style, Lassen had an introspective response.
'Tennis is interesting in that there are many different styles of players, both in terms of technique and personality,' he said. 'So it's important when trying to model yourself after a player to take into consideration your own personality and decide what style of play best suits it.'
College tennis is on the radar for Lassen, who is an honor student at Jefferson.
'My plan is absolutely to play tennis in college, but I am not yet sure where,' he said. 'I have looked at many small schools and have it narrowed down to a few. As far as what I'd like to study in college, I know I want to study Spanish in some capacity, but I also know I want to major in something else, I'm just not sure what yet.'
For now, Lassen simply is grateful for the opportunity to have a season.
'I want to say that I'm very grateful to every administrator and coach who worked to ensure a season for us players this year,' he said. 'Needless to say, there is an immense amount of pressure on decision-makers at this time, but I'm thankful for all the work that they have put in.'
Here are some Gazette area boys' tennis teams and players to watch this spring.
Teams to watch
Cedar Rapids Jefferson — Coach Tim Preston has a team loaded with potential. The leader is senior Kyle Lassen, who should be one of the top players in the Mississippi Valley Conference this season. After that, there is a talented sophomore class that would have gained valuable experience in 2020. Logan Miller, Jacob Strain, Austin Nagel, Landon Augustine, Logan Augustine and Adam Panoch all would have been in contention for varsity time as freshmen. Junior Caleb Suiter lettered as a freshman when he attended Marion. 'We should, at least, be plenty competitive and there's a decent shot that we could compete for a top two or three spot behind Iowa City West,' Preston said. 'How quickly will we be able to improve/progress and how do we stack up against basically an entirely different conference than what we played against two years ago is the big question.'
Cedar Rapids Xavier — Coach Jim Potts has the luxury of having a veteran team that has won a state championship. Six players return from the Saints' 2019 Class 1A title run, putting them in prime position to defend the crown. Juniors Brady Horstmann and Hugh Courter finished fifth in doubles. Senior Matthew Schmit combined with Wesley Johnson to finish second in state doubles while senior Ethan Shimak and Garrett Coester posted the clinching win in a 5-4 victory over Pella for the 2019 team title. Juniors Declan Coe and Trenton Link also return. Sophomore Ryan Schmit also will be in the mix. 'Our guys are excited to see what this year will bring,' Potts said. 'Our conference is always tough. Our goal is to continually improve and compete with as many teams as possible.'
Iowa City West — The dynasty that is West tennis looks likely to continue in 2021. Coach Mitch Gross, in his 20th season at West, is two dual victories shy of 300 for his career. The Trojans rolled to the 2019 state title, their sixth in eight seasons. In fact, West has been in every state team final since 2011. Seniors Eli Young and Mukundan Kasturirangan, along with junior Luca Chackalackal, are back from that team. Sophomores Jayden Shin and Jonathon Fan are talented newcomers while senior BJ Wolf lettered in 2019. 'We're just really hungry and focused after losing last season (to COVID-19),' Gross said. 'We are incorporating mindfulness into the program, ending every practice with focused meditation.'
Players to watch
Brady Horstmann, jr., Cedar Rapids Xavier — Had an 8-7 record as freshman for the 2019 1A state title team and combined with senior Hugh Courter to finish fifth in state doubles.
Mukundan Kasturirangan, sr., Iowa City West — Was undefeated in singles as West won the state team title and combined with junior Luca Chackalackal to finish sixth in 2A doubles.
Kyle Lassen, sr., Cedar Rapids Jefferson — Finished 10-5 in singles in 2019 and 15-4 in doubles in 2019.
Matthew Schmit, sr., Cedar Rapids Xavier — Was a state runner-up with Wesley Johnson in doubles in 2019 and had a 12-3 singles record for the defending 1A state champions.
Eli Young, sr., Iowa City West — Was a 2A state doubles runner up in 2019 with Sasha Chackalackal and was undefeated in his singles matches as West won the state team title.
Grayson Zylstra, sr., Cedar Rapids Washington — Qualified for state doubles as a sophomore. Zylstra had success playing in non high-school tournaments over the past year and should be among the top singles players in 2A this season.