ANKENY — The dual match that has been anticipated since the start of the boys’ prep tennis season is close to happening.
Traditional powers Iowa City West and Linn-Mar have topped the Class 2A rankings all season. West (17-0) edged the Lions (17-1) in an intense 5-4 dual April 24 at Linn-Mar.
“That Linn-Mar meet was one of the top five for sure in my time at West,” Trojans Coach Mitch Gross said. “The kids on both teams played some great tennis.”
Now, they each need one more win in Tuesday’s state semifinals to set up another showdown for the title. Top-seed West meets No. 4 Waukee and No. 2 Linn-Mar takes on West Des Moines Valley at the Prairie Ridge Sports Complex in Ankeny beginning at 8:30 a.m. The two winners will meet for the title one hour after the completion of the last semifinal match.
West, winners of five of the last six team titles, and Linn-Mar have met in the 2A final three of the last four years. Coach Chris Wundram’s Lions finished runners-up to the Trojans in 2014 and 2017. In 2015, the Lions downed West to take top honors.
Needless to say, there is mutual respect on both sides.
“Of course we want another shot at West,” Linn-Mar senior Ben Hediger said. “Qualifying for state is great, but we still have a goal left to accomplish. They are a great team and we will have to play our best if we want to beat them.”
West senior Brad DiLeo, who combined with freshman Eli Young to provide the winning margin in the April dual meet, said playing against Linn-Mar is special.
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“It is always fun to play against Linn-Mar,” he said after the April dual. “They’ve got some fantastic players. I enjoy playing against good competition and our matches with Linn-Mar are always hard fought.”
Before the season, West took a bit of a back seat to the Lions. Linn-Mar returned its entire lineup while West had to replace its top two players: Cole Schneider and three-time defending singles champion Jiang Jung. Gross said the West philosophy remained the same.
“We’ve always tried to not focus on the outside noise,” Gross said. “We really don’t worry about what others say. I knew we had a good group of players it is a testament to them on how they have performed this year.”
Juniors Sam Shin, Sasha Chackalackal and Jack Wenzel have been solid on top this season for West. DiLeo is the lone senior and a steadying influence. Freshmen Young and Mukundan Kasturirangan stepped in and provided needed depth after the graduation of Jung and Schneider.
Linn-Mar’s depth has been its strength during its recent run. Seniors Jack Gertsen and Lucas Huffman were part of the 2015 title team. Fellow seniors Hediger and Zach Glanz have been three-year regulars. Sophomore Luke VanDonslear has been strong at No. 1 while fellow sophomore Jackson Eells gives the Lions a strong No. 6 player.
With the exception of Eells, all participated last weekend in the singles and doubles state tournament.
“We usually have to have a practice on the Sunday before the state team tournament,” Gross said. “All of our guys played well at the meet so we took the time to rest.”
The only question for Linn-Mar might be Glanz’s health. He is battling a shoulder strain. He defaulted his consolation match at the state individual tournament to give the shoulder some rest. He is expected to play against West Des Moines Valley.