By Ryan Murken
Your Prep Sports
IOWA CITY – The individual success on the West High tennis team last season was hard to miss.
One of the most decorated players in state history, Jiung Jung led the parade of individual success posting his second consecutive undefeated season on his way to the Class 2A state singles titles.
Cole Schneider and Jack Wenzel finished runner-up in doubles at the state meet while Wenzel and sophomore Sam Shin each completed unbeaten seasons in singles play.
The individual success up and down the West High lineup is unmatched by any team in the state.
It has also never been the focus of a program that has ascended to the gold standard in Iowa prep tennis.
“I would definitely say that I enjoyed winning team state more individual state because that is more what we focus on, that is our final goal to win team state,” Jung said. “The individual stuff is a second priority to the team title for sure.”
The team-first mentality has paid big dividends for West High for more than a decade under veteran coach Mitch Gross.
West High has won four of the last five Class 2A team titles and appeared in the state title match each of the last six seasons.
After falling in the 2015 title match West High returned to the top of 2A winning its sixth state title in the past 12 seasons.
“Hopefully one of my strengths is being able to really build strong team chemistry and finding the right combinations and developing and creating team atmospheres where it is a team first and a really unselfish style of play,” Gross said. “Nine times out of 10 our players have bought into that and not just bought into it but embraced it and it impresses the heck out of me.”
The unprecedented run of team success isn’t a product of the strong individual performances at West High but the other way around.
At West High, the emphasis is on the team and any individual success that comes along with it is a bonus.
“Team state is definitely more important for me,” Schneider said. “It’s always team first for me, that’s how it has always been in the program and that’s the way we like it. It takes everyone to win a team title.”
For some programs the high point of the tennis season comes at the individual tournament in May.
At West High, the plan is always to be playing the best a few days later at the team championship.
The aspect of every player having a role in a championship is attractive to any coach but for Gross the challenge of the team title is part of what makes it the top goal.
“I think the pride is in winning the team championship and to be honest I think it’s harder to win a team championship and they know that,” Gross said. “That’s part of why we make that our goal.”
In the middle of a run of success unseen in Class 2A tennis last season was among the most impressive for West High.
The Trojans have the ability to post another impressive season this spring.
West High returns four of its top six singles players led by Jung, who brings a 50-match winning streak into the season.
Jung followed up his state title as a sophomore with a second straight 25-0 season, defeating cross-town rival and close friend Joe Hoff of City High in the 2A title match.
“To be honest last year I don’t think I was ready for that pressure, it was a lot to deal with,” Jung said. “Now that I’ve had that experience for this year I think I will be able to handle it better.”
Jung is just the beginning of a talented list of West High returners.
Wenzel and Schneider return intent on finishing the job of claiming a state doubles title after falling to the top-seeded team from Pleasant Valley in the title match last year.
“Last year we were the underdogs so we just wanted to play the best tennis we could and see how far we could get,” Wenzel said. “Getting to the championship is just motivation to do even better this year. We’ve worked even harder.”
Sophomores Brad DiLeo and Shin return after strong freshman seasons.
There is work to be done but Gross likes where he team is at.
West High opened the season with a pair of impressive wins 9-0 wins over West Des Moines Dowling and Waukee.
“We will be in the mix for sure, I think we are a good team but there are a lot of other good teams,” Gross said. “I think we have the ability to repeat for sure but a lot of teams have that ability. It is going to take us playing near flawless tennis to repeat.”