Tennis Cards had great expectations

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By: 
Rob Reischel
Gene Kim and Middleton's boys tennis team had high hopes in 2020./Times-Tribune photo by Mary Langenfeld

Editor’s Note: The WIAA recently canceled spring sports due to the COVID-19 pandemic. At the Times-Tribune, we’d like to give recognition to the athletes and coaches who had their seasons stopped prematurely.

So over the next few weeks, we’ll run a series of stories on the teams that didn’t get a chance to perform in 2020.

 

One thing many coaches embrace is the unknown.

When teams are young, inexperienced and unproven, coaching matters more than ever.

That was going to be the case this spring with Middleton’s boys tennis team.

The Cardinals returned just five of their top-10 players from a team that reached the semifinals at the WIAA Division 1 team state tournament. But Middleton always has a deep and talented program, and Cardinals’ second-year coach Tony Mirasola believed his team could surprise.

Of course, we’ll never know.

The tennis season — and all spring sports — were canceled recently by the WIAA due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“A lot of teams in the area also lost some of their top players, so it again would have been a tight race in the Big Eight,” Mirasola said. “I know we had players that put a lot of work in during the offseason and were very excited for the season to start. 

“I’ve done my best to keep in touch with the guys and send activities to do at home or on their own. They have all been in pretty good spirits, but obviously many of them are pretty disappointed to not be out practicing or playing matches right now.”

Middleton returned three singles players, led by sophomore Ian Connell who played No. 2 in the lineup last year. Connell had a memorable win over Arrowhead’s Cole Contardi at the state team tournament last year to give the Cardinals a 4-3 victory over the Warhawks.

“I was certainly expecting some big things from Ian this coming year,” Mirasola said.

Sophomore Jacob Mandelbrot, who played No. 3 singles, and senior Akshay Kelshiker, who played No. 4, also returned to the lineup. Kieran Gopal also had some varsity experience last season.

“The intriguing part to me is the depth that we would have had at our singles positions this season,” Mirasola said. “I believe this would have led us to have a very deep singles lineup, as even some of our top JV players last year would do well in those singles spots.” 

Middleton’s doubles team were going to look dramatically different, though.

Junior Gene Kim played No. 2 doubles last year, while junior Andres Clark played No. 3. Those two were set to anchor a lineup that would have included several new faces.

“Over the course of the year I know Gene worked on his game a lot and I believe he would have been one of the strongest doubles players in the conference this year,” Mirasola said. “Andres would have certainly been a key player in our doubles line-up again this season, too.

“As a coach, this would have been an exciting and challenging spring, as all of our doubles teams would have been new combinations from last year. As a program we have always been very strong in our doubles teams, and while I think we certainly had the talent to do that again this year, finding the right pairings was going to be something we needed to work through.”

Mirasola knew he had a gifted group of incoming freshmen, led by Jonathan Kim. But he was excited to find out what that class — and several other players — could provide.

“I was looking forward to this year, because as a team, we were going to have a lot of change in our lineup from last year,” Mirasola said. “We had a lot of young players last year that worked hard over the summer and in the off-season to develop their game. 

“I was very excited for this season as it was a bit of an unknown. We certainly have a lot of talent, but much less experience than last spring.”

 

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