IOWA CITY — There hasn’t been a Class 2A boys’ state team tennis final four without Iowa City West since 2010.
The Trojans are once again back in the semifinals. Coach Mitch Gross’ team is the top seed and a prohibitive favorite to take home a sixth title in nine years.
Led by a senior class that has tasted defeat in a dual just once in four years, the Trojans open with No. 4 Ankeny Centennial on Tuesday. No. 2 seed Pleasant Valley and No. 3 Waukee meet in the other semifinal. Play begins at 8:30 a.m. at the Prairie Ridge Sports Complex in Ankeny with the final to begin one hour after the completion of the semifinals.
“I think we have what it takes to get it done on Tuesday,” said senior Sasha Chackalackal. “Everything we’ve done so far is leading up to winning this team title.”
Chackalackal, along with fellow seniors Sam Shin and Jack Wenzel, have done nothing to tarnish West’s impressive tennis legacy. They have been part of a team that is 71-1 in duals during their career.
“I’m very proud of the players in our program,” Gross said. “We take this seriously. I think the biggest compliment we get when we play other teams is hearing how classy our players are and how intense they are regardless of how they are playing.
“That approach is a big reason we have had the success over the years. It would mean the world to us to win on Tuesday. There’s a reason the team championship is last. It’s a big one.”
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The only blemish over the last four years is a down-to-the-wire, 5-4, loss to Linn-Mar in last year’s state final. Gross said that loss will be a motivating factor for the Trojans.
“We’ve had a bitter taste in our mouths from last year,” he said. “We’ve been working really hard to correct some of the things we need to correct and we hope that we can come out on top.”
Despite the fact his team is a big favorite, Gross is not taking anything for granted. He believes the state field from top to bottom is as strong as he can remember.
“There are four really good teams at the state tournament this year,” Gross said. “It’s really anybody’s tournament but I’m hoping we can dig down and find that edge we’ve had in the past.”
A key for West in this run has been its depth. Sophomores Eli Young and Mukundan Kasturirangan, along with freshman Luca Chackalackal, are a combined 63-0 in singles matches entering Tuesday’s action. Shin and Wenzel are unbeaten at No. 1 doubles while the No. 2 doubles team of Sasha Chackalackal and Young advanced to the finals of the state doubles tournament last Saturday before losing their first match of the year.
“I like the fact all our guys were playing (in the singles and doubles state meet),” Gross said. “It was a tough weekend of tennis, but it gives us great preparation for the team tournament.
The Class 1A tournament will be held at Waveland Park in Des Moines. Cedar Rapids Xavier is the top seed and will open with No. 4 Le Mars. No. 2 Pella and No. 3 Norwalk meet in the other semifinal. Coach Jim Potts’ Saints are making their third straight trip to the final four, winning the title in 2017.