NEW FRANKLIN  One year ago, the Manchester boys tennis program was in a transition period.
This spring, the Panthers hope to ditch some of those growing pains and improve on a 3-18 record thanks in large part to the experience they gained in a trying season. Head coach Bob Irwin took over the program one year ago and inherited a team in rebuilding mode.
At that time, the Panthers had just one player with any real varsity experience. As he begins his second year at the helm, Irwin sees a better foundation in place for Manchester tennis and is eager to see that foundation built upon in the weeks ahead.
"Compared to the beginning of last season, we enter this year with significantly more talent and experience," Irwin said. "Last year Mitch Krock was our only returning varsity player. This year, we not only have many returning varsity players from last season, be we also have a few skillful players joining the team that have previous tennis experience."
As coaches with growing programs often do, Irwin wants his team to focus more on its own play and worry less about their opponents. He believes that such an approach will help Manchester become more competitive this season and perhaps score a few more wins than last year. The roster includes returnees such as seniors Krock, Tayron Latson, Louie Beck, Joe Headley and Joe Schermesser, juniors Jack Cooper and Collin Knisley and sophomore Nathan McKenney.
"Joe and Louie stood out in the offseason for working hard and continually taking advantage of opportunities such as our open courts in the summer and playing at the Green Tennis Club in the winter," Irwin said. "Mitch and Tayron are top players back from last season."
Krock and Latson won their first-round sectional doubles match a year ago at the Wooster Division II tournament at the College of Wooster. They’ll have a few new teammates on the roster and the hope is that those newcomers can make an immediate impact.
Seniors Daniel Cope, Ryan Grandon and Michael Mundy and junior Gabe Sharrock will all have a chance to earn playing time and show what they can do. Sharrock is new to tennis, but has had a successful junior year athletically, setting a single-season scoring record with 36 goals last fall for the boys soccer team.
He and his fellow newcomers’ development would go a long way toward adding depth on a roster that could use the boost.
"I am looking forward to seeing how our newcomers compete as we go against other teams," Irwin said. "We are just to the beginning of our practices, so others could rise as well."
Irwin pointed to the three seniors from last season who graduated and left a big hole in the roster as a difficult trio to replace due to their work ethic and effort. New leaders will have to step up if the Panthers are going to better their win total from last season and as the program starts its second season with Boettler Park in Green as its home court, excitement is high.
In the early going, weather has been one of the biggest obstacles as cold temperatures and snow have made life difficult. Still, there is time for the weather to improve ahead of the team’s opener against GlenOak on April 2. It will be the first chance to see just how big the strides made in the offseason were and also should help calibrate expectations for the year.