Henlopen Conference tennis is traditionally dominated by just a few schools: Caesar Rodney, Dover and Seaford. But the balance may have shifted in Indian River’s favor this year.
Last year, the Indians finished with a 7-7 overall record. But they very well could have established themselves as a powerhouse had they won another match here and there. In fact, they lost five matches (Seaford, Milford, Lake Forest, Smyrna and Dover) by a close team score of 3-2 — but that’s become old news.
Determined not to lose another match by one point, the Indians clocked heavy off-season workouts at Sea Colony and it looks like it’s paid off.
“This year, we’re stronger at our 1-2-3 positions,” said second doubles player Jordan Marvel. “We definitely have more talent than last year.”
Senior Fletcher Garrison noted that their serves were more powerful, consistent and hit with better pace because of the extra practice at Sea Colony.
“We’re pretty excited. All that hard work will payoff,” he said.
Garrison, Chad Brasure and Zack Mitchell round out head coach Sean Oates’ singles players — he just isn’t sure where they’ll end up.
“They are so competitive and they work so hard each day that it pushes them,” Oates said. “They don’t get better unless they push each other, and if they keep it up they’ll continue to improve every day.”
Having three equally talented singles players gives Oates the option of playing any one of them, playing their strengths against their opponents’.
Currently, Oates has Garrison returning at first singles after taking over that slot from Bobby Boyce late last year.
Garrison was more of a defensive, finesse player last year — relying on his opponent to make unforced errors. But this year Garrison is ready to cut loose.
Having had extra repetitions, Garrison completed the package by also bulking up over the past year. It might not be noticeable but it sure has made a difference.
“I can’t really notice it but people have said they could tell. So if that helps then I’ll keep doing it — except steroids. They’re bad and I won’t do them,” Garrison said.
Brasure moved to third singles late last year, but this will be Mitchell’s first singles play. He and Sean McMullen advanced to the second round of the state tournament in first doubles last year after defeating the No. 3 seed, St. Thomas More, 6-1, 6-0.
Oates’ singles players have the skills. Now they need more consistency — especially on their serves.
“They hit the ball too hard because they think they’re Andre Agassi,” he said. “We need to improve our serves. In singles you don’t want a weak second serve because they know it’s coming.”
Charlie Cole and Ed Smith moved up together from second to first doubles this year. Last year they nearly beat Seaford at the conference tournament where they would’ve played Caesar Rodney for the second doubles championship.
“They must have had a dozen match points in three sets,” Oates said. “For our doubles it’s all about the ability to focus.”
Tommy Reichart joins Marvel for second doubles, though it is possible that newcomer junior Danny Kleinstuber will push for playing time.
Indian River will kick off the season with four conference matches (Lake Forest, Seaford, Cape Henlopen and Smyrna) over the coming week, so they’ll have a good indication of where they stand early in the season. But Garrison already knows.
”If I was a wagering man, I would say that we will bring home the conference championship,” he said.