Apr. 13—A lot can change in two years.
That has certainly proven true for the Muscatine Muskie tennis program.
After the 2020 season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, both Muskie teams have new coaches since the last time Muscatine played competitive tennis in the Mississippi Athletic Conference.
Longtime boys coach Ron Kiser retired prior to the start of what would have been the 2020 season, but now the keys of the program have been turned over to Jim Sichterman.
Kiser had three stints with the Muskies over a span of 47 years.
Sichterman has plenty of meaningful experience behind him, but now will try and pass that on to a roster that has no seniors and just two juniors while freshmen and sophomores occupy the remaining half-dozen varsity roster spots.
Though Sichterman would like the numbers to increase over the next several years, having such a young roster is an inviting opportunity to really set the foundation for the program he now controls.
"I haven't coached high school tennis before, but I've played a lot of tennis and done a lot of USTA captaining and things like that," said Sichterman. "It's definitely a reset (for the program). But the great thing is, we have eight guys who want to play tennis, so we're able to spend more time with them individually."
Muscatine's season got underway last Friday against third-ranked Pleasant Valley. The tough competition didn't leave much margin for error as the Muskies only won a single set between the six individual matches and three doubles.
"We just want to listen to the coaches," freshman Trey Ulses said. "We can only go up from here, so we need to get better, get stronger, hit harder."
"We're working on our (weaknesses)," said freshman Dylan Maresca. "We got smoked our first match, we obviously made some mistakes, but we want to build up from there and try to get better every day."
However, the Muskies are using that as a block on which to build, not something to dwell on.
"I told the team, that's what the top talent looks like," Sichterman said.
But things don't get a whole lot easier for Muscatine.
"Now we have Bettendorf, they're a really good team, so we'll see how we do," said the Muskie first-year coach. "They've gotten so much better with racket control and understanding come of the concepts already it's remarkable. Hopefully they see that as well."
The Muskies hope some solid team chemistry will go a long way this season, too. The members of the team have formed a solid bond already and are hoping some honest conversations turns into more wins.
"We had Bob and Michael Carver playing a (junior varsity) doubles match together and they ended up winning a game and were celebrating, but they had the court next to them in stitches," Sichterman said. "They're brothers, they were just talking to each other the way they normally do ... 'You should have done this' or whatever, not discouragingly, but having fun.
"Half the audience was close enough to hear everything."
Muskie girls team wants to send seniors out with successful season: Like the Muscatine boys tennis team, the girls squad welcomed in a new head coach this season as well as the team hopes for brighter days ahead.
Kyle Kennedy takes over for Connie Connie Czerwiec, who spent four seasons as head coach of the Muskies.
However, while the boys team is lacking seniors on its roster, the girls team has 11 seniors among the 19 players on the varsity roster.
"It was sad that we didn't have a season year," said senior Elise Finn. "The year has been different with masks and virus protocols, but it hasn't changed anything with chemistry on the team. We're still the same there."
That has allowed Kennedy to hit the ground running a bit, as the seniors intend on leaving the program better off now than some of the seasons they experienced through their prep years.
"At least we're getting a senior season and can create some change in the program," senior Maria Engler said. "We have a lot of new faces, though, with the sophomores and freshmen being new, so it helps the team that everyone is trying to learn together and help each other."
Both Finn and Engler saw varsity action as sophomores, so for them, the early portion of this season is about picking up where they left off and helping the rest of the team get steadily better.
"The biggest thing we're trying to do is instill a lot of confidence in our players," Kennedy said. "With not having a season last year and having a record of 1-8 the season before that, we're really just making sure we're going into matches competitively and bringing in things that we've been working on. Hopefully the wins start coming as that confidence grows."
Kennedy grew up in the Marion area and has been a teacher at MHS for three years, but is getting his feet wet as a first-year head coach.
"I played tennis all four years in high school," he said. "So I have quite a bit of experience at the varsity level and understand the expectations that go with it.
"We've been starting to see a lot of growth really quickly with some of our players," said Kennedy. "Even some of our veteran players ... they're understanding more and more what will make it a successful season."
While the seniors are seeking some wins before graduation, the rest of the team may not make them wait.
"One strength of (our team) is that we're all fast learners," Engler said. "Overall, we've become much more productive.
"We'll take this season as a lot of learning experiences, but we also want to win some."
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