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Experience bolsters Parker hopes on the tennis courts

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Christopher Heimerman
April 9, 2010
— As he enters his sixth season as Janesville Parker’s boys tennis coach, Mike Fuhrman has never found motivating his team to be so easy.

Not only are 14 of the 23 on his roster seniors, but he’s also got a dandy of a battle brewing for the No. 1 singles spot.


Enter senior Nick Gilbank, a four-year varsity player with a complete game. He bowed out last seasson in the first round of the No. 1 bracket in a WIAA Division 1 sectional at Lake Geneva Badger against a Kenosha Tremper player who finished in top 10 at the state tournament.


Gilbank’s competition for the top singles spot? Junior Matt Knutson, who lost in the No. 3 singles final atLake Geneva and went 18-5 for the season. He has brought his serve along well, and like Gilbank, relies on consistent ground strokes.


“Nick’s been steady for three years now. and Matt’s worked really hard in the offseason,” Fuhrman said. “But Nick is hungry. It’s just a great competition between them, and the other guys see them battling and are pushing themselves to keep up with them.”


After all, the battle for No. 1 singles is just one of several position battles among the Vikings.


“It’s a good problem to have,” Fuhrman said. “It’s great having all these guys competing and pushing each other.


“Tennis is a unique sport—it’s a very objective situation.”


As opposed to taking myriad factors—whether tangible or intangible—into account when determining which slot players will occupy, Fuhrman uses the time-tested system in which athletes play each other in challenge matches to earn their spots.


Overall, five Vikings return from last year’s team. Sophomore Ian Weiland played No. 1 doubles last season, but his partner graduated, so he’ll take on singles competition.


Seniors Zach Atkins and Erynn Zweifel are competing for the remaining singles spot.


The senior duo of Craig Spangler and Codi Papcke will likely slide into the No. 1 doubles slot. They’re both well-rounded players who have worked hard to develop their undeniable synergy on the court.


“Their biggest asset is that they’ve put in a lot of time in the offseason together,” Fuhrman said. “They know where the other will be at all times.”


Senior Kitchell Garey is a letter winner who will team up with Ryan Ploof, a junior, who is coming off a promising junior varsity season in which he tandemed with Spangler.


A group of seniors—Tanner Mecca, Tyler Ross and German foreign exchange student Daniel Schette—is vying for a spot on the final doubles pairing.


“This is probably the most senior-dominated team I’ve had in six years. We’re a very mature team in that sense,” Fuhrman said. “Some of them might not have played varsity, but they’ve got a lot of experience and bring a lot of leadership.”


Fuhrman says the competition for spots hasn’t been this heated since his first year coaching the Vikings. He also predicts the Big Eight Conference to be as competitive as ever, with Verona, Middleton, Madison East being the consensus favorites, with Madison West rebounding after a down year last season.


“The Big Eight’s awful good,” Fuhrman said. “Every week there’s good competition.”


The Vikings open their today with the Fort Atkinson Quad, which will also feature Watertown and Whitewater. Parker will host Beloit Memorial in a Big Eight opener Tuesday.


Parker’s schedule: (4:15 p.m. unless indicated)

APRIL: 9—Fort Atkinson Quad, 3:45 p.m. 13—Beloit Memorial. 16—Parker Quad, 3 p.m. 20—Madison East. 27—At Madison West. 29—Verona.


MAY: 4—At Sun Prairie. 6—Janesville Craig. 8—Stoughton Invitational, 8:30 a.m. 11—At Madison La Follette. 13—Madison Memorial. 15—Milton Quad, 8 a.m. 17—At Middleton. 22—Big Eight Conference meet, Nielsen Stadium, Madison.



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