Prep Sports

Linn-Mar claims eighth straight boys' tennis district title

Luke VanDonslear wins singles crown, Jackson Eells and Kartik Tharwani win doubles at Prairie

Linn-Mar Lions
Linn-Mar Lions

CEDAR RAPIDS — Luke VanDonslear played a huge role in Linn-Mar winning the Class 2A boys’ state tennis championship last spring.

Four of the top six players from that team graduated, leaving VanDonslear as the team’s most experienced and talented player in a transition year for the Lions. He was at his best during Friday’s Class 2A district tournament at Cedar Rapids Prairie, rolling through three matches, losing just five games total to claim the singles championship and a berth in the state individual singles tournament May 24-25 in Cedar Rapids.

His effort, along with a pair of three-set wins in the semifinals and finals from Jackson Eells and Kartik Tharwani over Cedar Falls’ two entries, rallied the Lions to the team title with 25 points to 23 for the Tigers. The win was the eighth-straight district title for Linn-Mar, which advances the to the substate team tournament next Saturday at Pleasant Valley.

VanDonslear combined with Ben Hediger to finish second in the state doubles tournament in 2018. After dispatching Kennedy freshman Parker Sprague, 6-1, 6-2, in Friday’s singles final, the Lion standout, now 15-2 in singles, was eager to think about his state chances.

“I beat (Pleasant Valley’s) Justin Sehlin, 10-8, in the third set last week,” he said. “It was a good win for my confidence.”

Sehlin, Cedar Rapids Washington’s Rami Scheetz and Iowa City West’s Sam Shin, last year’s state runner-up, along with VanDonslear are all considered contenders for the singles title. His only losses this season are to Scheetz and Shin. Kennedy’s Sprague also qualifies for state as the district runner-up.

“There are a lot of good players out there,” VanDonselar said. “I am looking forward to competing with these guys and seeing what I can do at state. I really worked on improving my serve since last season and it has made a big difference for me.”

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The race for the district doubles title came down to the final set. Eells and Tharwani overcame a slow start to down Cedar Falls’ Pranav Chandra and Ben Campbell, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 on the heels of a three-set semifinal win over the Tigers’ Neel Shah and Cedric Hassmann.

“We had a tremendous group of seniors last year,” VanDonslear said. “We have a lot of talented guys this year who work really hard. I’m proud of the way our season has been going and it was great we were able to survive today and advance.

“To pull this out today was just awesome.”

Cedar Falls and Waterloo West, the third-place finisher here Friday, will meet Saturday in Cedar Falls in a preliminary-round substate match. The winner will join Linn-Mar next Saturday in the four-team field at Pleasant Valley, where the survivor advances to the state team meet on May 28 in Ankeny.

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