116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — Marshal Moellers understands who he is following.
After 22 seasons and eight state championships, Mitch Gross stepped down as the boys’ tennis coach at Iowa City West after last season to concentrate on his role as the school's principal.
Moellers, a former West player and Gross’ assistant since 2018, is taking over the program this season.
“It is stress-inducing to say the least,” Moellers said. “Coach Gross put West High tennis on the map. His coaching abilities are legendary.
“To say that I am feeling a little anxious and unworthy to take over as head coach is the understatement of the century. Those accolades and accomplishments make for some pretty big shoes to fill.”
Whereas Gross started off with the program near the bottom of the heap, Moellers’ first team begins the 2022 season ranked No. 1 in Class 2A by the Iowa High School Boys Tennis Coaches.
Moellers said playing for Gross and working with him as an assistant will be a plus as he takes over.
“Aside from the immeasurable stress, I also feel confident,” Moellers said. “Having been through the program as a player under his coaching prowess, and worked alongside him as a co-head coach, I have a unique perspective that has helped me maintain the high expectations Gross has cultivated at West since his first tennis season in the spring of 2002.”
Gross, who will still contribute to the program as a volunteer assistant, believes the program is in good hands.
“I am really excited for Marshal as he takes over as head coach," Gross said. "Even though he is one of my former players, and has been my assistant, I am excited to see him put his own stamp on the program.
“Marshal is an excellent teacher in the classroom. I have no doubt that will correlate into him being very successful on the court as well. I am very much looking forward to my role as being a volunteer assistant. I love serving as a mentor for Marshal.”
To make many changes from the way Gross ran the program would be “foolish,” according to Moellers. He does, however, have some ideas he plans to implement.
“I think my coaching caters nicely to the psychological part of the game,” he said. “For example, making sure my players are in a positive head space, and not belittling themselves with negative self-talk is a goal of mine. Tennis is such a mind game, and I feel I do a good job recognizing and mitigating those negative behaviors.
“Something unique this year is recording our players’ matches to view and analyze afterwards. We'll set up a couple GoPro cameras on the court and record our matches. We will go back and view the footage and document errors and mistakes and process how to fix them.”
To stay on top and hold off the likes of No. 2 Pleasant Valley and No. 3 Waukee, the Trojans will need to replace Eli Young and Mukundan Kasturirangan, who were in the top of the lineup last year, along with doubles specialist BJ Wolf.
“We have a solid team this year,” Moellers said. “Luca Chackalackal returns as our senior team captain, and he has done a phenomenal job leading this team. Jayden Shin, Samir Singh, Jonathan Fan, Shivy Mannengi, Patrick Selby, Ryan Kirkpatrick all return to our varsity lineup, along with some new players including Seth Smigel, Junze Sun, Ishan Harwani and Ankur Karandikar.”
Moellers and his team are ready to embrace the West tennis tradition.
“The vibe on the team has been so much fun,” he said. “We have a tremendous group of players who are all working exceptionally hard to continue competing at the elite level our school has come to expect. We are excited to show what we are capable of this season.”
Boys’ tennis teams to watch
Cedar Rapids Xavier — Coach Jim Potts’ Saints open the season as the state's top-ranked team in Class 1A. The Saints are looking for a third-straight state title and welcome back five of seven regulars from last year's 17-1 team. Senior Brady Horstmann was part of the state doubles championship team with 2021 graduate Matthew Schmit. Three other seniors — Declan Coe, Hugh Courter and Trenton Link along with junior Ryan Schmit also return. Coe and Courter were fifth at state in doubles while Link took eighth in the singles tournament. Sophomore Quincey Johnson and Garrett Nurre are expected to be in the mix. "We're bringing back five of the top seven from last year's state championship team," Potts said. "The (Mississippi Valley Conference) is one of the best conferences in the state. It will be a battle to try and win that this year."
Iowa City West — There is a changing of the guard this year at West as Marshal Moellers steps up from assistant coach to the top job, replacing legendary coach Mitch Gross, who retired after leading the Trojans (17-2) to a runner-up finish in his final season. Moellers’ first team opens as the top-ranked team in Class 2A. Gone from that team are Eli Young, Mukundan Kasturirangan and BJ Wolf. Heading the list of returners is senior Luca Chackalackal, who combined with Kasturirangan to take second in doubles last season. Also back for West are juniors Jayden Shin and Jonathan Fan along with sophomore Samir Singh. “We graduated some really strong players for us last year,” Moellers said. “The work and effort our returning players put in over the summer and throughout the year has really helped to bring us back to that elite level.”
Linn-Mar — Chris Wundram begins his 16th season as the Lions coach with a veteran group. Linn-Mar, ranked No. 6 in the 2A preseason poll, will be led by senior Ayush Kalia, a state qualifier last season. Senior Brock Hanna, along with sophomores Malcolm Rice and Jackson Kramer, also returns. Juniors Zach Mersch and Calix Carpenter and sophomore Jacob Wallrichs are expected to contend for spots in the lineup. “We return a strong core from last year’s (state quarterfinal) team,” Wundram said. “There are some younger guys who are really competing in practice to fill those open spots. I feel we have 8-10 guys who can compete and win at the varsity level.”
Boys’ tennis players to watch
Seth Blackford, Marion, jr. — Finished 13-3 singles and qualified for 1A state in doubles with 2021 graduate Tanner Shindelar with a 16-6 record.
Luca Chackalackal, Iowa City West, sr. — Finished second in Class 2A doubles with 2021 graduate Mukundan Kasturirangan.
Declan Coe, Cedar Rapids Xavier, sr. — Finished 5th in Class 1A doubles with teammate Hugh Courter.
Hugh Courter, Cedar Rapids Xavier, sr. — Finished 5th in Class 1A doubles with teammate Declan Coe.
Brady Horstmann, Cedar Rapids Xavier, sr. — Won Class 1A doubles title with 2021 graduate Matthew Schmit.
Ayush Kalia, Linn-Mar, sr. — Qualified for Class 2A singles state tournament.
Jayden Shin, Iowa City West, jr. — Finished sixth in singles in Class 2A.
Parker Sprague, Cedar Rapids Kennedy, sr. — Qualified for Class 2A singles state tournament