SYRACUSE — The 2019 Wawasee boys tennis lineup has a number of new faces and may just sneak up on some teams this fall. One standout newcomer helping fill out the roster is Jack Gibbons, a junior transfer from Central Noble.
Gibbons, who made the move after his father made a job change, introduced himself to the Wawasee tennis community over the summer when he won the Fast4 Tournament title at the Staley Tennis Academy. With so many players pushing each other for top seven spots — there are five currently challenging for the remaining two spots in the Warriors’ varsity roster — this fall’s lineup could be pretty fluid, and Gibbons may slot in anywhere from 3 singles to 2 singles to 1 doubles depending on the night. The former Cougars player knows his new team pretty well from playing against them in the past, but the Warriors have been welcoming of their former opponent.
“I’ve known most of these kids for awhile because I’ve been playing with them,” he said. “It’s a little different, but it’s nice because everyone here is really supportive. It’s just great to be here.”
And Wawasee is happy to have Gibbons. Alongside sophomore Holden Babb and senior Zach Leedy, the Warriors should be solid across their singles lineup this season.
“With him moving in, it was good to have somebody that had played one season already, and he’s been training hard this summer, too,” said head coach Vince Rhodes.
The team has already gotten off to a fast start. Credit a revamped work ethic among players, as well as the fact that so many of this year’s players are so closely matched. And that healthy competition has helped push the Warriors in the early going.
“I feel our team is in really good shape. I feel like we’re probably in the best shape of the three years I’ve been on the team,” said Leedy. “I think our depth this year is probably some of the best we’ve had in a long time, from a couple spots on varsity all the way down to the JV. A couple matches, good play could take you all the way from a 3 singles spot on JV to a 1 doubles spot or even number 3 singles. I think that gives a lot of people motivation, and I think we can use that to fuel our season.”
“I feel really good about the season, compared to last year especially. Everything seems pretty structured. We have a pretty good team so far. Especially for coming out of the offseason right away, everybody seems to have everything together pretty well,” said returning senior Colin Rhoades.
Foremost in everyone’s minds is a desire to improve on the records of years past.
Wawasee’s boys collected just six wins across the 2018 season, including only one in the Northern Lakes Conference — a narrow, 3-2 win over Elkhart Memorial last September — and they’re looking to change that this season. And they feel they have what it takes to do just that, too — assuming, that is, that the impressive effort they’ve put forth so far keeps up over the front end of the season through an always-challenging NLC slate that is scheduled to begin at home opposite Plymouth next week.
“I would like to see a good, winning record. It’s been a long time since we’ve had a good winning season, and we’ve kept the ball rolling through the whole season,” explained Rhoades. “A lot of times we start to kind of lose our momentum, or we start off weak, finish strong. I’d like to see it kind of continue through the whole season rather than dwindle away as we go. Even if we don’t have a winning record, I’d like to see the effort keep up, everybody be working their hardest because as we do get into the NLC, things get more challenging.”
“I really just want to see everyone try their hardest this year. That’s my main concern. If everyone tries their hardest, I don’t think a winning record will be hard at all,” Gibbons echoed.
Alongside Gibbons and a talented sophomore class, the Warriors’ head coach is himself new to the role this year — in a manner of speaking.
Rhodes returns to helm the program after stepping down into an assistant coaching role under Staley last fall. After Staley suddenly resigned mid-spring, Rhodes stepped up to fill the gap in the offseason, and, with no one to replace him, has simply stayed put in the position. It hasn’t been much of a transition for the returning skipper, and he’s excited about what the future holds for his Warriors.
“They wanted to get going in the summer, and I told (athletic director) Cory (Schutz) I’ll just do whatever we can do to keep it going. If you find somebody, OK I’ll still help and be the assistant,” Rhodes recalled. “But I told the boys I’m really excited about this season because a lot of them have been playing, and we’ve got some younger kids that have been playing in the USTA tournaments, which is really going to help us a lot. And the sophomore group we have is a good bunch of athletes, so it’ll be interesting to see how we do this year.
“I think with the group that we have this year, as long as everybody steps up, we should have a better record. And that’s the number one goal is to increase our wins. Basically, we want to get up in the NLC, and with this group here, I think we’re going to surprise a few teams.”