Saturday was a learning experience for the Muscatine boys tennis team. The Kiser Invitational, held at Weed Park in Muscatine, was loaded with tough competition featuring Iowa City West and Pleasant Valley among others.
However, to add to the Muskies’ challenge, varsity regulars James Solt, Ethan Heth and Ricardo Pena missed Saturday’s invite to take the ACT, forcing three new players into action.
The inexperience mixed with strong competition led to a tough day for the Muskies at their home invite, as Luke Zobel was the lone player to win a match. The Muskies went 1-9 on the day and placed sixth out of six teams.
Zobel won his first match 10-8 over Clinton’s Connor Hyde. However, Muscatine’s No. 2 singles player was blitzed by Pleasant Valley’s Jake Dolphin in the single elimination bracket to end his day.
“Overall I played pretty well,” Zobel said. “Even though I lost I was able to hit some good shots.”
His win over Hyde, which Muscatine coach Ron Kiser called a “quality win,” came down to who blinked first.
“(We were) evenly matched,” Zobel said. “It was back-and-forth and came down to whoever made the first error.”
Zobel said it came down to the basics -- overheads and groundstrokes -- as he avoided mistakes to sneak past Hyde.
“(He) used his head a lot better in his first match today,” Kiser said. “He showed some of that background that he had from last year and I think maybe he might be getting back into a better mode.
“He was keeping the ball in play one more time than his opponent and that’s what you have to do.”
However, it was tough sledding in the semifinals against Dolphin, as Zobel didn’t take a game. His best chance came in the eighth game of the match, but he lost the sudden-death deuce point. Zobel struggled with first serve accuracy and Dolphin made him pay by routinely ripping forehand winners his second serve.
“It’s a struggle because he’s just so good,” Zobel said of Dolphin. “It’s fun playing good kids because you can try new things (like) hitting harder, focusing on the technique on serve and getting to the net more.”
Although Zobel recorded the Muskies’ only win, Kiser was pleased with the way junior varsity players Hunter Randleman, Seth Hoffman and Caleb Trosen performed in their first varsity competition.
“The guys tried hard,” Kiser said. “They were playing some pretty good and they just kind of lose a little bit of their wherewithal to dig down a little deeper.”
Kiser was especially pleased with Trosen and Hoffman, who won a combined five games in singles competition but showed promise in their first varsity experience.
“I was really surprised with the grit Caleb showed,” Kiser said. “He had some good shots but he was playing a kid who has a lot more experience. Seth is coming along pretty good but his serve is the thing that took him out of the match.”
No. 1 singles player Sam Wiekskamp lost his lone match to Camanche's Mason Halstein 10-3 while Leo Garcia, Muscatine's No. 3 singles player was blanked 10-0 by Davenport Assumption's Eli McCracken. It was a struggle in doubles, too, where the Muskies won a combined five games in three matches.
The invite was dominated by Iowa City West and Pleasant Valley, as the two schools met in all six singles finals and three doubles finals. West won eight of the nine finals matches along with the team title with 26 points and PV placed second with 19 points.