After a 2-2 deadlock against Seaford last week, followed by a rain-delayed match between the team’s top hitters, Indian River boys tennis players knew they had to return to the courts with precision and focus. Brendan Young, leading IR at first-singles, stepped back on the court last Tuesday to secure the 3-2 victory for the Indians in a tie-breaker — a win that just may help to give them the conference as the team approaches the midpoint of their schedule.
The team powered on that week, knocking off Cape Henlopen and Smyrna on Thursday and Friday in commanding wins. Those matches were followed up by a 5-0 victory hosting Sussex last Monday, April 14. The Indians, now sitting comfortably on an undefeated record, can enjoy their triumph, although head coach Pat Cicala doesn’t want it to get to their heads.
“I’ve enjoyed our performances so far this season, and it’s quite exciting for the kids, too,” he stated, “but we can’t ease off.”
Cicala has been video-recording his players’ performance, and with a break in the schedule this week, he hopes it will benefit them as a teaching guide.
“We’ll watch the videos at practice,” he said, “not to point fingers, but to see where we can be making improvements. I can talk to the kids, and explain as a coach what they can fix, from dipping your shoulder to not rolling your hand, but if they see it for themselves, that’s much more of an instructional tool.”
Before even getting into the tapes, Cicala planned to ask each player what one part of their performance they felt they could adjust; then, by honing in on these tactics, they can better themselves as athletes. With three days before their next game at Dover on Friday, April 18, the players will have more than enough time to recuperate from the harsh early schedule that saw three matches a week on several occasions.
“These kids are working hard,” said Cicala. “They have the best advantage over the teams and these guys are eager to learn and improve their game. Our performance lets us know where we sit.”
He is exceptionally pleased with the way his second-doubles team and exhibition pairs have brought their intensity.
“They’re really vivacious,” he admitted. “This week, I’ll have four players challenging each other for the second-doubles position. As a coach, you have to love it, knowing that their talent is so close. It really gets them to lay in practices for the real deal, too.”
With time away from matches, he hopes to help his doubles players understand how to work together and figure out their strategy. As for singles, he wants to emphasize which strokes to use in situations that will help them win.
“We have to start looking at individual play,” he said.
Following the Dover match on Friday, the Indians will hit the courts this week, hosting Caesar Rodney on Thursday, April 22, at 4 p.m. and traveling to Milford on Thursday. IR managed a 5-0 win against Milford already in the third match of this season.
“We have a good week ahead of us,” said Cicala. “It’s time to focus.”
“We’re coming together really well,” said second-singles player Zach Kmetz. “With that Smyrna win, there’s no reason why we can’t bring home the conference title this year. We just have to keep playing the best way we know how.”
Cicala encouraged his team to stay on track, as the conference championships at Sea Colony loom less than a month away.
“We just need to keep our heads straight,” he said. “The guys are having fun while doing this. It’s great to see them enjoying themselves.”