By Ryan Murken
Your Prep Sports
IOWA CITY – Young athletes in sports like basketball, baseball and soccer follow the same three step formula for improvement.
Get bigger, stronger and faster.
Joe Hoff played all those sports as a kid. He saw the advantage increased size, strength and speed could bring on the soccer field, basketball court or the baseball diamond.
Hoff eventually chose tennis over the other sports but he still saw the benefit of being bigger, stronger and faster.
He did all three during his prep career and it has helped turn the City High senior into one of the best singles players in the state.
“He works very hard on his own and he’s gotten a lot better physically,” City High coach Chip Hardesty said of Hoff. “He has grown and he is stronger and that has certainly helped him.”
Getting bigger was the easy part for Hoff.
He’s grown more than four inches since his freshman year to his current 6-foot-4.
Getting stronger and faster have taken more work but paid big dividends for Hoff who enters the Class 2A state tournament on Friday as one of the favorites to claim the singles title.
“I’d be lying if I said I was a huge heavy lifter but in tennis you don’t need to come out at 200 pounds and have huge biceps that’s not what the sport is about.,” Hoff said. “It’s a lot more about sprint cardio and I think one thing that I have really improved on in the last couple of years is my speed and my positioning and being able to get to balls that I wasn’t able to before.”
Hoff acknowledges being bigger and stronger has helped his game. It’s being faster that has been the key.
He spent the past two seasons work on his acceleration, a key component for a tennis player with the amount of changing directions in a match.
“That is what tennis is a lot about, it’s a lot of starting and stopping, starting and stopping,” Hoff said. “It’s a lot of pushing off with your legs.”
The bigger, stronger and faster Hoff has gone from a promising freshman that posted an 8-4 record in the number one singles spot to one of the most imposing players in the state.
Hoff went 19-4 last season as a junior, finishing as the 2A state runner-up in his first appearance in the state singles tournament.
He enters state tournament play on Friday morning with a 15-1 record, his lone loss coming to two-time defending state champion Jiung Jung of West High in the district title match on May 11.
“He’s playing as well as he ever has,” Hardesty said. “If everything goes well he should be at a peak physically and mentally this week.”
Armed with a devastating serve and a thunderous forehand the quicker more agile Hoff has become a force.
An improved backhand has made Hoff even more difficult to attack.
He has dropped just two sets all season, both coming against Jung.
“He does a lot of things better honestly and it starts with his serve, his serve is a real weapon,” Hardesty said. “He’s always had a good forehand and his backhand used to be something that people would try to attack and this year that is not working. He can rally with it, he hits out with it so he’s become strong off that side as well.”
Hoff enters state tournament play with something no other player in the field has, a win over Jung.
He handed the West High senior his first loss since 2014 with a 5-7, 6-4, 10-8 win over Jung in the regular season dual on May 2.
Hoff also owns a regular season Pleasant Valley senior standout Sriram Sugumaran, given him victories over two likely top seeds in the 2A singles tournament.
With his district final loss to Jung, Hoff will enter the tournament un-seeded for the second straight season.
The draw didn’t stop him last season as he defeated third seed Jackson Guilford of Indianola in the quarterfinals and Jonny Bowser of Fort Dodge in the semifinals.
Hoff will attempt to follow a similar path to the finals this season.
“It’s going to be tougher but you are going to play great people in the tournament either way so to me it shouldn’t matter if its second round or the semis or the finals,” Hoff said. “Hopefully everything goes like last year where I play good tennis my first couple rounds and I’m able to knock off a couple of the top seeds.”