Let, second serve: Iron Tennis warms up for new challenges

Editor’s Note: According to the IHSA, “April 8 is the target date” for the resumption of spring sports. “However, there are state governmental, educational and health bodies that will need to approve this action… It is too early to say definitively that IHSA activities will resume on April 8.”

Neither Unit 5 nor the Illinois State Board of Education has announced a date for resuming spring sports practice or competition at this time. 

This article was originally slated to appear in the print edition of the Inkspot during the week of March 16. 

Despite the core of last year’s boys tennis team graduating or otherwise not returning for the 2020 season, the Iron Tennis program remains determined to repeat their 2019 success. 

In 2019, the program won the Big 12 Conference, an IHSA Class 2A Sectional, and qualified six entries to the State tournament. 

“We’ve lost a lot of key players – we know that,” Muneeth Narra (‘20) said, “but we hope to compete just as strongly as we did last year because we have a great group of younger guys coming through,” 

In years past, the focus of the season has been to improve on the one prior; but after such a successful ’19 campaign, this year’s goals center around not building, but maintaining those levels.

Of last season’s varsity players, four will be coming back. Despite the turnover – which included three-year State finalist and captain Parker Honegger – the team retains key personnel from last year, who will be relied on to provide leadership throughout the season. 

Sophomore Maxim Pavlovic will play at #1 singles this year after making it to the State finals during his freshman campaign. Ryan Broach (‘22) – the younger brother of state qualifier James Broach, who now plays for Millikin University – returns after seeing significant doubles playing time last season. 

Muneeth Narra and Amith Hiremath (‘20) – the team’s lone seniors – will start for the Ironmen and draw upon their four years of experience to lead the team.

Retaining the Big 12 Conference title for a fourth straight season and winning a competitive IHSA 2A Sectional area aspirations that are “tough, but totally possible,” Narra believes.

Accomplishing those goals largely relies on new arrivals since Conference and Sectional tournaments rely largely on depth, rather than top-end strength. 

“There’s a great new group of players coming in – Mateja Pavlovic (‘23), Kerry Tilford (‘23), Nicholas Bruha (‘23),” head coach Roger Juers said, “as well as sophomore Reed Stoewer (‘22).” 

Though the young talent has promised, concerns abound regarding just how quickly they will acclimate to the relentless nature of high school play. In order to help them adapt, Narra said creating a strong sense of camaraderie and team spirit will be “essential.”

“They may be new to the team but we’re excited to see how far [the underclassmen] can go this year,” Hiremath said.