116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
LA PORTE CITY — A suggestion from a family friend quickly turned into a passion for Alexa Weber.
The Union Community High School junior was one of the smaller kids in her class, so it was suggested she give tennis a try.
'I immediately fell in love with the game,' she said.
That love has grown.
In 2019, she joined the Union team as a freshman, although she had not played competitive matches. She didn't know what to expect.
All she did was go 12-7 in matches with five of her seven losses coming to players who went on to place at state.
That momentum came to a halt when COVID-19 forced the cancellation of the 2020 season.
'Just as it was for everyone, missing last year's season was a huge disappointment,' said Union Coach Erin Wittenburg. 'Having missed all of the 2020 season, it will be interesting to see what talent will emerge, as a lot of growth can happen in two years.'
Weber, one of five returning regulars from the Knights' 2019 team, admitted she missed playing in 2020.
'I'm a competitive person, so playing a match is one of my favorite things to do,' she said. 'Living in Iowa, it is difficult to work on my game in the offseason. But, when the season was canceled, I started playing as soon as the weather allowed.'
Wittenburg said Weber's work ethic over the past two years has been impressive.
'Her technique is solid,' Wittenburg said. 'Over the past two years, she has gotten much stronger and has definitely improved her stamina, speed and strength.
'With the help of her coaches at the Black Hawk Tennis Club (in Waterloo), she has also developed her match strategies. These strategies will help her mental aspect of the game.'
Weber credits much of her success to her older sister, Belle, a senior on the team. The sisters combined for a 7-6 doubles record in 2019. Belle Weber has committed to play beach volleyball in college at Missouri State.
'Having my older sister as my doubles partner is great,' Alexa said. 'There are a lot of benefits from being siblings and doubles partners. Communication is one of the most important things in doubles and, because we are sisters, we understand each other better to adjust quicker during matches.
'I look up to my sister. She is admirable in her character and dedication to her own sport, beach volleyball. I have grown up watching her love for the game and how hard she continues to work. It has been important to me to find that love for myself.'
Alexa is unsure if college tennis will be part of her future. She plans on majoring in biology and pre-med.
'I think playing tennis has helped me grow into the person I want to become,' she said. 'Tennis has taught me a lot about teamwork, leadership, and how to be successful on and off the court. Right now, I want to focus on a good high school season, and hope I can help my team have a successful year.
Here are some Gazette area teams and players to watch this spring.
Teams to watch
Cedar Rapids Xavier — The Saints were the Class 1A state champions in 2019, defeating Waterloo Columbus in the title match. Three members of that team return for Coach Matt Foxhoven. Senior Miyako Coffey, who teamed with Emily Jasper to win the doubles title in 2019, will likely go for a singles title this time around. She has committed to NCAA Division III nationally-ranked Hope College in Holland, Mich. Also back from the state title team are juniors Courtney Carstensen and Ally Burger. Others in the mix include juniors Ella Tallett, Riley Braksiek and Maggie Zittergruen, sophomore Isabel Barnes and freshman Avery Link. 'We have girls who have played a lot of tennis in the offseason,' Foxhoven said. 'We've gone two years without meets, tough to predict how new girls will respond when they are on the court during the first few matches.'
Iowa City West — Coach Amie Villarini's Trojans lost to Ames in the 2A title match in 2019. Senior Caroline Chandler and junior Caroline Mascardo were among the top six on that team. Another senior, Audrey Koch, has elected not to play this season after signing to play college basketball at Providence. West will be a young team in 2021. Sophomores Ella De Young, Juliana Mescardo, Lydia Chin, Zola Gross and Lindsey Henkenius along with freshmen Lilly Graham and Maggie Shin are contenders to be in the lineup. 'Overall we are a strong team but we are a young, inexperienced team especially since our freshmen missed out on the 2020 season due to COVID,' Villarini said. 'The sophomores are all really like freshmen coming in as their first season along with the new incoming freshmen. We have a lot of depth and tournament-level players and still should be strong contenders for the state championship.'
Union Community — First-year coach Erin Wittenburg has a veteran team returning in 2021, headed up by junior Alexa Weber. Other top returners include four seniors: Belle Weber, Madelon Rathe, Sophie Winkelpleck and Ellie Behrens. The one advantage for Wittenburg in her first year is inheriting a team that has all its varsity players back from 2019. Most teams in the North Iowa Cedar League are in a rebuilding mode, which should give the Knights an advantage.
Players to watch
Courtney Carstensen, jr., Cedar Rapids Xavier — Finished 19-1 in singles in 2019 and was a key contributor to the Saints' run to the state team title.
Caroline Chandler, sr., Iowa City West — Regional singles champion and state qualifier in 2019, undefeated in regular season singles duals.
Miyako Coffey, sr, Cedar Rapids Xavier — Finished 14-5 in singles in 2019 and was part of the 1A state title team and won the 1A doubles title with Emily Jasper.
Caroline Mascardo, jr., Iowa City West — Undefeated in singles as a freshman in 2019, state doubles qualifier.
Alexa Weber, jr., Union Community — Finished with a 12-7 singles record in 2019.
Kathryn Zylstra, soph., Cedar Rapids Washington — A talented player who has yet to play a high school match. Will likely play at No. 1 singles for the Warriors.