Last year, only a small percentage of the athletes on the boys’ tennis team at Indian River High School had ever picked up a racquet before stepping on the courts with head coach Pat Cicala. This year, the Indians are back with more experience, drive and knowledge of the game.
After losing only one starting senior, Cicala has his expectations set high — especially since he has already found a promising replacement for his former first-seeded starter.
“Everyone is going to be really surprised with our tennis team this year,” said Cicala.
The void left by graduate Charlie Cole looked like there were some pretty big shoes to fill, but Cicala said this week that he believes he found just the guy he needed.
The Indians’ newest addition, Brendon Young, is a transfer out of Northern Virginia. After relocating to the area with his mother from Fairfax County, Young is returning to the courts with high hopes for the season.
Tennis has always been a passion for Young, who has been swinging a racquet since he was 11 years old. He’ll start the year at the No. 1 seed for Indian River.
“I’m looking forward to him doing very well,” said Cicala. “I believe he’s even a contender for states. He’s that good.”
The rest of the team — primarily the same athletes as last year’s team, returning in their junior and sophomore years — are also hoping to capitalize this year, fueled by the fact that the majority of them have worked with each other to perfect their skills and continued playing in the off-season.
“They all know what they’re supposed to do now,” Cicala said, “and for most of them, it’s at least their second year playing together. The guys all played over the summer, and they’ve done a phenomenal job. They were even out here in December on their own. I’m really looking forward to this season. It should be really interesting.”
A balance of skill and enthralling teamwork is hindering the coach resolving all of the positions, but it’s a problem with which he’s willing to deal.
“I have a fight for second doubles,” he said. “Six people are playing for that position – four new freshmen that just came out for the team, and some of them are going for this position as well. I’m very pleased. It should be a lot of fun. Everybody’s focused.”
Cicala was impressed by the number of freshmen who came out for the team and stuck with it.
“At tryouts,” he stated, “I said, ‘No matter who’s on the starting team, there’ll be two freshmen and a sophomore, whether you played last year or not.’ It worked out really well, and it’s great to see everyone still playing hard and trying for it.”
With his eyes on his own players, Cicala shows no concern about their opponents this year.
“I’m not even worried about competition,” he said. “I just want my guys to play good tennis. I’m sure, whoever we face, our team will meet the challenge. That’s the key. A lot of people look at who’s this and who’s that. I don’t care. I’ll have these guys take on anybody. This team isn’t afraid of anyone.”
Having the same returning players for at least two years is definitely favorable on Cicala’s and the team’s part. Last year, teams like Smyrna were heavily weighted to their senior classes and will be looking to fill numerous voids before the season starts up.
“It’s great,” said Cicala, “because we have the same group next year, and on top of that, I have two sophomores and three freshmen on the varsity team now, so I have three years with them. It’s looking good.”
He’s accompanied this year by assistant coach Fletcher Garrison, who will help develop the squad.
“It’s shaping up to be a promising season,” Cicala said. “I thought we did pretty well last year, and last season we only had four people on the team that had played [organized] tennis in their entire life. This year, we have really improved on experience and hopefully, it will show.”
IR will host Stephen Decatur this Monday, March 17, in a scrimmage at 3:30 p.m. The Indians’ season will start on April 1 at Lake Forest, at 4 p.m.