NEW FRANKLIN  The Manchester girls tennis team has seen significant improvement over the past two seasons.

Now, the boys team will try to do the same under the guidance of the same coach who has helped the girls go from two wins in 2015 to 11 victories last fall.

Bob Irwin is eager to take over boys tennis program and the former Baldwin Wallace College tennis standout hopes to build on the momentum that comes from guiding the girls team to its first winning season since 2009. He is optimistic the boys can take a page out of that book and be successful as well.

"We have a really great group of kids that have bonded quickly," Irwin said. "Although we have many new players, I have been pleasantly surprised at our overall talent level despite our lack of experience."

The key, according to Irwin, has been players both returning and newcomers taking to what the coaching staff has tried to impart and approaching the game with an open mind and a willingness to learn.

"We do have a few athletes, and our entire team has been very receptive to learning the sport,” he said. “We have improved a lot in our few weeks of practice and I look forward to more improvement as we gain match experience."

The Panthers’ only returning varsity player from a year ago is junior Mitch Krock, who saw limited duty as a sophomore. That small supply of varsity experience makes Krock the de facto veteran on the team and, although he’s not a senior, he’s open to the idea of being one of the team’s leaders.

"Although our team is relatively new to the sport, we have a lot of heart and we'll aim towards success,” Krock said.

Promising newcomers on the squad include seniors Jesse Wood, Alec Miller and Ian McCartt, juniors Tayron Latson, Louie Beck, Joe Schermesser and Joe Headley and sophomore Collin Knisely, all of whom step in with a chance to make an impact. Irwin noted that Wood, Miller and McCartt have all shown the ability to contribute to the varsity and have picked up the game fast, while Latson and Beck have also made their way into the lineup while Schermesser and Headley should see varsity action as soon as the first few weeks of the season.

Behind that group, Jack Cooper, Alex Deskovich, Nathan McKenney, Nathan Beck and Gavin Grigsby will provide depth and like those ahead of them in the lineup, they’re eager to learn and build their game so they can contribute to Manchester’s success going forward.

For a young, inexperienced team, having good chemistry and mental toughness will be important all season long and knowing that there will be bumps and falls along the way in building what they hope will be a winning program, the Panthers know they have to maintain their willingness to learn and desire to compete in the face of difficult matches.

A pair of 4-1 defeats to Coventry and Hoban to open the season were indicators of how far the Panthers have to go this season, but they do finally have something of a home court advantage. With Green’s new courts located just outside the gates at Memorial Stadium, the Bulldogs are no longer using Boettler Park as their home venue and in their absence, Manchester will play its home matches there. 

"For the first time in my three seasons at Manchester, we were able to have some home matches on our schedule," Irwin said. "We would like to thank the city of Green and Boettler Park for making this possible. It will be great for our kids and parents to not have to travel so far for every match on our schedule."

Fewers miles logged to get to matches is a positive and now, the Panthers can focus on logging more miles and experience on the court as they attempt to grow a young, promising roster filled with many new faces into the same sort of winning program that the girls team has established in recent months.