By Ryan Murken
Your Prep Sports
CEDAR RAPIDS – No seed? No problem for Joe Hoff.
Entering the Class 2A state singles tournament unseeded for the second straight season once again did little to slow the City High senior.
The defending 2A runner-up, Hoff returned to the semifinals with a pair of straight-set victories on Friday.
Hoff knocked off Moise Habineza of West Des Moines Valley 6-0, 6-1 in the opening round indoors at Westfield Tennis Club.
He moved outdoors in the afternoon and returned to the semifinals for the second straight season with a 6-4, 6-1 win over third-seeded Jacob Panjwani of Bettendorf at Veterans Memorial Tennis Center in Cedar Rapids.
“I wouldn’t want an easy first two rounds because then you might not be prepared when the big guys hit you,” Hoff said. “It was definitely great competition today, they both played great and it got me ready for tomorrow.”
Last season, Hoff knocked off both the second and third seeds on his way to the state title match in his first state singles appearance.
He took the first two steps to following that path back to the title match on Friday has a familiar foe standing in the way of a second consecutive championship appearance.
Hoff will face Fort Dodge senior Jonny Bowser in the semifinals on Saturday at 10 a.m.
“He is a really good player, he is one of those guys that is really naturally athletic and fast,” Hoff said of Bowser. “He has it all kind of.”
As an unseeded district runner-up last season Hoff defeated second seeded Bowser 6-2, 2-6, 7-5 in the semifinals.
The two will meet in the same situation on Saturday.
“It should be like last year’s match,” City High coach Chip Hardesty said. “It was a barnburner. It’s going to be a battle because Bowser is real athletic and covers the court and they both bang it.”
Hoff has followed a nearly identical script back to the state semifinals.
Losses in the district final to two-time state champion Jiung Jung of West High have stopped Hoff from entering the tournament as a top-four seed each of the past two seasons.
That hasn’t stopped him from advancing to the semifinals two straight season.
The only difference this season is everyone expected it.
“Everybody knows who the favorites are they are human and they feel the pressure,” Hardesty said. “You play a little tighter and you could see Joe in the second match it was a combination of the other player was really playing well in the first set and Joe was a little tight. As he relaxed a little in the second set he pulled away and played the way he can play.”
Hoff cruised in the opening round against Habineza but was pushed hard in the opening set against Panjwani.
He took the opening set 6-4 against the Bettendorf junior and then looked dominant in a 6-1 win in the second.
“I think there are some things that I can do better but I think there were things that I did very well today,” Hoff said. “I think I had pretty good consistency.”