By Ryan Murken
Your Prep Sports
IOWA CITY – Coaches in all sports go to great lengths in an effort to make their teams feel like a family.
When it comes to creating a family environment, West High tennis coach Mitch Gross has it easier than most of his peers.
In 16 years leading the program Gross has relied plenty on family ties while turning West High into the gold standard for tennis programs in Iowa.
“I’ve had a few sets of twins come through and we’ve had quite a few brother combos over the years,” Gross said. “We really do try to foster the family atmosphere and I think that’s such an overused cliché in sports but it really is a family.”
There is not a set of brothers in the West High top six this season but the family connection is alive as the Trojans chase their fifth state title in the past six years.
Senior Cole Schneider, junior Brad DiLeo and sophomore Jack Wenzel all watched as their older brothers win straight state titles at West High from 2012 to 2014.
Now that trio has top-ranked and unbeaten West High (17-0) seeking a second straight Class 2A title on Tuesday at the Prairie Ridge Tennis Center in Ankeny.
“They have been great role models,” Jack Wenzel said of the older siblings. “Obviously they had a lot of success and I think that kind of motivates us to play as good as they did.”
Trent Schneider, David DiLeo and Karl Wenzel were stalwarts on the West High teams that became the first 2A program to win three consecutive titles.
Their younger brothers watched those matches hoping to someday get a chance to equal that success.
Those three brothers can take another step toward doing just that on Tuesday morning in the 2A semifinals against No. 7 West Des Moines Valley at 9 a.m.
“I think they have taught all of us so much over the years and I’ve learned a lot form my brother so I want to try to match what my brother did,” Brad DiLeo said. “All of us have tried to match what they did.”
Jack Wenzel got square with his older brother Karl in one area last Saturday with help from Schneider.
The duo won the 2A doubles title at Veterans Memorial Tennis Center in Cedar Rapids three years after David DiLeo and Karl Wenzel teamed up to win the last West High doubles crown.
“I knew all the guys on their team, I used to practice with them sometimes and they were really nice to me,” Jack Wenzel said. “They have been really helpful giving tips because they have obviously experienced this and had success.”
Karl Wenzel is now a member of the tennis team at Wheaton College while Trent Schneider plays collegiately at Luther College and David DiLeo plays basketball at Central Michigan.
All three were back last week to watch as West High won state singles and doubles titles in the same year for the first time in program history.
“It’s fun to watch these guys and see how far they have come and how much they have built the program,” Karl Wenzel said. “It’s an exciting feeling to watch your brother play.”
Cole Schneider will join his brother at Luther next season, continuing to bring a family feel to a program.
“I always looked up to him just how much of a competitor he is,” Cole Schneider said. “He always wants to win and I think I have learned a lot from him.”
Cole Schneider hasn’t ruled out the possibility of playing doubles with his older brother sometime in the future but first wants to close out his prep career with a bang.
West High can do that on Tuesday by adding to its 2A-leading title count with an eighth state championship.
The Trojans have never lost a state semifinal and defeated West Des Moines Valley 8-1 back on April 4.
“We want to finish it next week with a team title,” Schneider said. “Honestly, that means more to me than anything is winning the team championship so that is something we are looking forward to.
Waiting in the finals could be a rematch with Mississippi Valley Conference rival Linn-Mar.
West High defeated the third-ranked Lions 8-1 on April 25 in Iowa City and have split its last two title matches with Linn-Mar in 2015 and 2014.
The Trojans are attempting to complete the title trifecta of singles, doubles and team titles in the same season for just the fourth time in 2A and first since Des Moines Roosevelt did it in 2009.
“We aren’t done yet,” Gross said after watching his team win singles and doubles titles on Saturday. “We still have a couple of big matches left on Tuesday and we need to be ready to play our best tennis.”