The Ottumwa boys tennis team will not suffer from a lack of experience or a dearth of numbers this season.
The Bulldog team is festooned with veteran talent — namely 14 seniors who will supply Ottumwa with a steady helping of leadership.
“Our biggest thing will be depth,” Ottumwa boys tennis coach Alan Paris said. “We have a lot of depth.”
While Ottumwa is filled to the hilt with seniors, the team’s two top netters, at least in singles play, are underclassmen. The Ray brothers, Steve and Zack, will follow in the footsteps of older brother C.J. Ray, who finished his heralded career at Ottumwa last season. He advanced to the Class 2A state championship in each of his four seasons.
Steve enters his junior campaign after having a solid sophomore season where he served as Ottumwa’s No. 2 singles player, while Zack will make his freshman debut Thursday when Ottumwa kicks off its season at West Des Moines Dowling Catholic in a non-conference meet.
It’s been many years since the Bulldogs have played Dowling, so Paris doesn’t know what to expect from the competition. Paris said Steve — because of an edge over his younger brother in the experience department — will likely be the No. 1 seed, while Zack will settle into the No. 2 spot. Despite his rookie status, Paris has been impressed with the Zack’s play thus far in practice.
“He’s a nice little player,” the coach said about Zack.
Thus far, practice has primarily focused on serves and volleys, Paris said.
“We’re making progress,” he said.
Now, doubles play will take on a more central role in practice, the coach said.
In the No. 3 spot will be senior Jared Bohlmann, while senior Seth White will likely occupy the fourth spot. Senior Jacob Gardner will get the nod at fifth seed, while the six spot is being vied for by juniors Nick Sedore and Mitch Buller and sophomore Sam Kramer.
Ottumwa doubles play, specifically who will be paired together, is still up in the air, the coach said. Paris said the Ray brothers may pair up and the duo of Gardner and senior Alec Maas will remain together for a fourth straight year. The lively pair never suffers from a lack of charisma or vigor.
“They’re very entertaining,” Paris said.
Of the 14 seniors that decorate the roster, Gardner is the least bashful.
“Jacob is the most vocal of them all,” Paris said.
With C.J. Ray — who not only lead by example, but also with his voice — graduating last spring, Gardner has taken it upon himself to fill the verbal vacuum he’s left.
“He’s doing a pretty good job picking up the slack,” Paris said.
Maas and Bohlmann also are two of the team’s more vocal players, the coach said.
The Bulldogs will try to win the CIML Metro Championship this season. In addition, the coach said, along with qualifying for team regionals, he wants at least one of his players to earn a berth at the state meet.
Paris said this year’s squad really enjoys each others company.
“We’ve got a good bunch of guys,” he said. “They root for each other; they have a good team spirit. I couldn’t have asked for a better bunch of kids.”