As temperatures hovered in the upper 70s last week, members of West Iron County’s boys tennis team got in some doubles practice on the Nelson Field courts much earlier than they usually can. The Wykons’ first match this spring is on April 24—four weeks from now.
IRON RIVER—It was “pinch me” weather for all of us last week, including West Iron boys tennis Coach Joe Serbentas.
There he was, watching West Iron’s boys tennis team in one of its first practices of the year—outside on the Nelson Field courts. In mid-March. The players were working out in shorts and either T-shirts or shirtless. After all, it was in the upper 70s. June weather in March!
This week, with the sneak preview of mid-summer a fading memory, the team may be back in sweats for practice—or even indoors if some white stuff starts flying around. In past years, tennis practice in spring started with “shovel parties,” to remove snow and slush from the courts so practice could start.
But the early warm weather has no effect on the calendar—the Wykons don’t have a meet until April 24. That’s about the time when—in a normal year—temperatures get mild enough and the snow is gone enough to have outdoor tennis matches in the U.P.
The Wykons won the U.P. Division 2 state title last year, defeating Iron Mountain by one point in the U.P. Finals. Some key members of that team are graduated and gone.
“But I had six freshmen in the lineup last year,” said Serbentas. “Half my team was freshmen, so all those guys are returning.
“And they’re already, right now, playing close to the way they were playing at the end of last season. So if they improve like they should, they’re going to be better than they were at the end of last season.”
They were plenty good last spring, earning the Wykons’ their second straight U.P. title and their fifth in the last seven years—continuing a local tradition dating back to the Stambaugh Hilltopper teams led by Willard Anderson in the 1940s.
This spring’s returnees include junior Austin Waara, who won the first singles title last year as a sophomore. “If you’ve got that one guy at the top,” the coach said, “that just makes everybody better down the line.”
Also back is Caleb Pellizzer, who won the third singles U.P. title last year—he’s the only senior on this year’s team. “By the end of last year,” his coach said, “he was playing as good as any of the two singles in the U.P.
“His game is going to improve by leaps and bounds this year, and his leadership is going to be important.”
Others returnees also got to the finals last spring: Ricky Passamani at fourth singles, Ryan Rogers at first doubles and Aren Newby at fourth doubles.
Also back are Andrew Peterson, Adam Newby and Sean Gustafson, who all reached the semifinals in doubles last spring. Gustafson is now a junior—all the others are all sophomores.
Rogers and Peterson have been working a lot together. “They’ve been playing a lot,” the coach said. “Right when the snow melted off and we hadn’t gotten a chance to practice yet, they were out here playing for four hours, three hours.”
The other two singles slots are undecided right now—but the team doesn’t have a meet until April 24, anyway.
“This is a good group of guys I have,” Serbentas said. “Most of these guys have good GPAs and are good students—well-rounded students. I’ve been fortunate and blessed to have those kinds of kids.”
This year, 20 kids signed up for tennis. Some will take part in golf and track, as well. “This is the only season in the school year where you have three sports in the same season. You don’t have too many athletes to go around in a small school.
“I’m willing to let some of them do some dual sports—but I tell them, you put as much effort into this as you do in your other sport, too. And I expect them to do well in both sports—not blow one off.”
Again this year, John Spelgatti will be assisting Serbentas with the team—on this day, he was raking leaves around the perimeters of the courts when not offering pointers to the players.
“He’s awesome!” said the coach. “Not only does he do things around the court, but he’s just a great mentor for these kids. He’s been coaching for years, and he’s a wealth of knowledge. To have him on staff as an assistant is phenomenal.”
So is the tradition of success in the local tennis program, extending back through the years. “This is a program of excellence, of tradition,” said Serbentas. “We take pride in the fact that we’re a tough out for any opponent, and I guarantee that when teams see us on the schedule, they say, ‘That’s going to be a tough one.’
“I’m looking forward to a good season. We’re going to be right up there. I mean, we won last year with a bunch of freshmen in the lineup, and we’ve got a lot of guys coming back.”
The Wykons’ schedule starts at Escanaba on April 24. Their first home meet isn’t until May 3, against Norway.
That’s just five weeks away.