MARION — As the Linn-Mar boys’ tennis team was completing a state championship run in 2015, Ben Hediger was a member of the Lions’ freshman-sophomore squad.
The following spring, he ascended to the No. 1 singles spot and has been there ever since.
Now Hediger is preparing for his senior season, leading a team that has been ranked No. 1 in Class 2A in the Iowa Tennis Coaches Boys preseason poll. The Lions return the top seven players from last year’s state runner-up team.
“Ben’s a fighter,” said Linn-Mar coach Chris Wundram. “He’s a nice No. 1 to have out there for us.”
Hediger was a late bloomer as a tennis player. In junior high, he divided his time between tennis and baseball.
“I was playing baseball my seventh and eighth grade years,” Hediger said. “After that, I decided to put all my time into tennis. I went to a tennis camp at Coe College that summer and that is where things really took off.”
Wundram saw a huge jump in Hediger’s game between his freshman and sophomore seasons.
“He made some incredible strides,” Wundram said. “He went from No. 1 on the freshman-sophomore team to No. 1 on a defending state championship team. That is an unusual thing to see at this level.
“He’s got an incredible work ethic. I think he saw what it was going to take to be different. He had a lot of influence from that 2015 team. They had some guys who are just like him where nothing would stand in their way of where they really wanted to be.”
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Hediger’s individual numbers for his career have him just above .500 in singles matches. Wundram is quick to point out the competition at the No. 1 position has been outstanding, headed up by Iowa City West’s three-time state champion Jiung Jung.
“He took the brunt of a really strong senior class,” Wundram said. “A lot of the time, he would be our leader, yet he was playing against a top-six player in the state.”
Hediger believes playing so many tough opponents over the past two seasons will pay off in 2018.
“I’m not afraid of playing at No. 1 and going up against the best players,” he said. “My goal is to be there at No. 1 again and take care of business for Linn-Mar.”
That business would be taking the state team title. The Lions finished second to Iowa City West last season. Despite losing Jung to graduation, the Trojans are a strong team again, ranked No. 2 in first poll right behind the Lions and just ahead of Cedar Rapids Washington.
“Nothing is going to be easy,” Hediger said. “I feel really good about our chances, especially since we return our entire lineup.”
Hediger’s tennis career will continue next year at Coe, one of the top Division III programs in the country.
“If you would have told me when Ben was a freshman (he) is going to Coe to play tennis ...,” Wundram said with a smile and a shake of the head. “It’s just a cool story that Ben has made for himself.”