CEDAR RAPIDS — These Lions are hungry.
The Linn-Mar boys’ tennis team didn’t get its fill with a runner-up finish at the state team tennis tournament a year ago. With up to seven of the top players back from last year, the Lions have feasted on the competition.
“Losing in the state championship last year gave them good experience and it gave them motivation,” Linn-Mar Coach Chris Wundram said. “I can’t ask any more from them. They come to practice every day, wanting to work. They stay after to hit more. They like to compete.
“They have a goal. They have a chip on their shoulder from what happened last year.”
Class 2A second-ranked Linn-Mar added an impressive victory to its resume, handling No. 3 Cedar Rapids Washington, 8-1, in a Mississippi Valley Conference match Saturday at Washington. The Lions (6-0 overall, 5-0 MVC) swept all six singles matches and took two of three in doubles play.
“Washington always is a tough meet. They are the No. 3 team and they deserve that ranking, but our guys probably played their best match of the season today (Saturday morning) and we’re growing. Every match we’ve played our best match and that’s definitely a positive take from this.
“When the competition is tougher, we step up, too.”
The clash had its share of highly-contested contests, including the top-two singles matches being decided in super tiebreakers. Linn-Mar’s Luke VanDonslear topped Ty Sherman, 6-7 (5), 6-2 and 10-4, in No. 1 singles. The Lions’ Ben Hediger edged Rami Scheetz, 6-3, 4-6 and 10-6, in No. 2 singles.
VanDonslear, a sophomore, has emerged as the Lions’ No. 1 player after being second to Hediger last season. The progress has been more mental than physical or technical for VanDonslear, who placed sixth as the lone freshman in the 2017 2A state singles field.
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“I have everything from last year,” VanDonslear said. “I have my strokes and everything. Everything is good.
“I think it’s just me getting focused and ready for every single match.”
Wundram added, “My entire team has put in a ton of effort. Luke has a special talent. You don’t get players like that often. He has learned from some of the best guys, including guys on this team, right now.”
His match with Sherman demonstrated that growth. He overcame the opening loss that included an early 3-0 deficit and a comeback that put him ahead 5-4 only to surrender the lead and opener.
“The first set was tough because it was going back and forth,” VanDonslear said. “I tried really hard. When I lost that set, I was obviously frustrated. I bounced back and went from there and thankfully won the match.
“Just keep playing my game.”
He never trailed in the second, noting that it was key to connect on more of his first serves. VanDonslear closed with three straight points to even the match and pulled away in the super tiebreakers.
Wundram said VanDonslear is a fierce competitor who doesn’t beta himself in matches. He added that VanDonslear has developed the mental toughness that is critical in tennis.
“That’s probably a match as a freshman he might not win,” Wundram said. “This year, he’s really learned that he’s got to step up. Just because he lost his first set doesn’t mean anything. He really stepped up and it made a big difference.”
The Lions hadn’t lost a set before Saturday. They have dominated and have their sights set on adding a state team title to their 2015 championship. Linn-Mar fell to perennial power Iowa City West in the 2017 finals.
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“We made a great statement,” VanDonslear said. “I think that’s really awesome, so we have to keep moving forward and hopefully keep improving.”
Washington’s lone win came in No. 1 doubles. Sherman and Scheetz exacted a little revenge against VanDonslear and Hediger, winning 6-4 and 6-4. Sherman and Scheetz teamed together to finish second in 2A state doubles competition last season.
AT C.R. WASHINGTON
Linn-Mar 8, C.R. Washington 1
Singles — Luke VanDonslear (LM) def. Ty Sherman, 6-7 (5), 6-2, 10-4; Ben Hediger (LM) def. Rami Scheetz, 6-3, 4-6, 10-6; Lucas Huffman (LM) def. Grayson Zylstra, 6-2, 6-2; Zach Glanz (LM) def. Bennet Blumenthal, 6-0, 6-2; Jack Gertsen (LM) def. Max Novetzke, 6-0, 6-0; Jackson Eells (LM) def. Kalvin Loss, 6-0, 6-1.
Doubles — Sherman/Scheetz (CRW) def. VanDonslear/Hediger, 6-4, 6-4; Huffman/Gertsen (LM) def. Zylstra/Blumenthal, 6-0, 6-3; Glanz/Eells (LM) def. Novetzke/Loss, 6-1, 6-0.
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