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Experienced hands guide Peru boys' tennis

SIZZLER: Peru’s Ryan Smith watches his serve during a points game at a recent practice. Smith anchors the singles lineup for the Tigers heading into the 2019 season, having spent part of the 2018 in the No. 1 singles spot, and will look to lead the Tigers to repeat as TRC and sectional champions and beyond.

BY TRENT SCOTT - tscott@perutribune.com

Beating Peru in boys’ tennis in 2018 took a lot.

The three teams that did so, Homestead, Marion and Culver Military Academy twice, spent much of the season in the top-30 Indiana High School Tennis Coaches Association rankings, won sectional titles and, for the Spartans and Eagles, advanced to the IHSSA Boys’ Tennis State finals.

The Tigers return five of the seven varsity starters from a year ago, all seniors, that posted a 21-4 mark and unblemished TRC run as the team looks to go one better in the 2019 tennis season.

Peru head coach Mike Saine said the returning seniors, including Ryan Smith, Brad Ryan, Greyson Spohn, Gabe Baker and Christopher Dicken, continued to put in work this summer but added past performances were no guarantee of future rewards.

“We’ve got five seniors coming back,” Saine said. “Ryan has put in a lot of court time and had a really nice track season.

“Greyson came regularly in the summer, did some track work as well and really has athletic talent. Brad had some work opportunities this summer but he came in regularly during the summer.

“Christopher was a real regular and Gabe came in during the afternoons most of the time,” Saine added. “They’ve been here; we’ll just see if the old adage about the hardest thing in sports is to repeat is true.

“We can’t take last season’s result and think that’ll happen again without hard work and togetherness. We’ve got to figure out some doubles combinations as that’s 40 percent of the process and is very important.”

The rest of the roster includes juniors Reese Smith, Riley Smith, Pete Polk and Dillon Orr, sophomore Leif Astrup and Ben Duckwall and freshmen Jakob Gray, Ben Beckman, Lucas Slagel and Isaac Reemer.

Peru only graduated two seniors in Ethan Hyde and Bryce Cochran and Saine said the current group showed in 2018 it had potential when Hyde was out with an injury for a chunk of the early season.

“Ryan was a co-No. 1 last year as, when Ethan got injured, Ryan did a really nice job for two or three weeks at No. 1 singles,” Saine noted. “Our win over Plymouth came without Ethan as Brad stepped up to No. 2 singles and Leif came in at No. 3 singles.

“Ryan pulled out a couple of tiebreakers, Brad destroyed his guy at No. 2, Leif went three sets with a senior and off we went. When Ethan came back, we were able to strengthen our doubles and things turned our real well.

“This year, we need to add a new ingredient to the recipe so to speak,” Saine added about filling out the varsity roster. “Will it be one of the juniors? A freshman who’s hit a lot of balls? We’ll see what happens.”

One of the areas a newcomer would be needed to fill in is at doubles, an area Saine said was still being sorted out due to practices starting later than normal.

“We haven’t looked at all because the way the schedule went, our practices have been drills and conditioning, then a round of singles, figuring out doubles in the evening,” Saine said about doubles pairs. “We’ve done a little bit of doubles work but not as much as you need to see where you’re going to be with it and who plays well together.

“We had a nice YMCA trip to Delta, which turned in to a day we could experiment. We saw a little bit but we’re starting over with one new team and one experienced team.”

Peru’s 2018 season ended with the squad reclaiming its hold on the TRC and Peru Sectional titles after Wabash took both off the Tigers in 2017.

A win over Warsaw in the Culver Military Academy Regional followed before Peru bowed out to the hosts in the regional final.

Moving beyond the regional would take plenty of work and Saine said many of the same teams that routinely arrive at Culver would be looking for rewards themselves.

“You’ve got to win three points against good teams,” Saine said. “Culver’s good, Plymouth’s good, Warsaw is going to be good though two or three of their top players are gone but that doesn’t mean they won’t be good.

“This is a sport where younger players can make an impact for you.”

Peru opens the season next Tuesday against Huntington North and Wednesday at Hamilton Heights with a scrimmage at Madison-Grant set for this Wednesday at 5 p.m.

Saine said the group was still sorting out who would be playing where but was flexible and was ready to get into a groove this season.

“Like most athletic teams, they’re trying to find chemistry in doubles and singles players aren’t overmatched in their position,” Saine said. “They’re finding the confidence factor, which is what we’re looking for in the preseason.

“When we play three times on a Saturday, it’s a chance to move the kids between singles and doubles while remaining competitive and keeping that winning attitude going.”