NEW FRANKLIN Manchester's boys tennis team is in rebuild mode this season, as a majority of its roster is comprised of first-year players new to the sport, along with a new head coach.
Ger Vang has taken over the program, replacing Bob Irwin, who compiled a 6-31 record in two seasons at the helm. Vang knows that having an inexperienced squad presents plenty of challenges, but he expects his squad to improve as they gain valuable court time every time out.
With a young team, he’s trying to set realistic expectations for what’s possible and set out a strategy that will help Manchester build for this season and beyond.
"I don't expect a winning record for our team this year," Vang said. "What I do expect is growth for our players. So far, six of our 10 students are new to tennis or their skill level is equivalent to a first year player. This does not discourage me, because I think the more skill the players lack, the more room they have to improve."
With a 2-4 record in their first six outings, the Panthers have shown promise and at the core of their first-year head coach’s philosophy are some basic, yet important principles that Vang sees as tone setters for the team: commitment, family and production.
"I want my players to show up every practice and every game on time," he said. "I want my players to treat each other with respect. I want my players to be competitive, but also treat each other like family. My last expectation is to be productive during practice."
The roster has a mix of seniors and underclassmen as well as a mix of boys and girls, seniors Collin Knisely (first singles), Sean Gunter (second singles), Jack Cooper (first doubles) and Nathan McKenny (first doubles) are the returnees for the Panthers.
Vang described Cooper as “the voice for our team” and described the senior doubles player as "articulate and passionate about tennis.”
He credited Cooper’s leadership skills with helping the Panthers grow and added that Cooper’s willingness to be kind and help his teammates has made an impact on newcomers such as senior Maddy McFadden (third singles), freshman Madison Gunsett (second doubles) and Dustin Hill (second doubles).
Senior Mackenzie Stewart and sophomores Nick Hassan and Jeremiah Bergum are members of the JV team and given the amount of new faces populating the roster, every chance to get on the court is valuable.
With a few weeks left in the regular season before tournament time, Vang likes what he has seen through the early portion of the season. He also credits his staff for the work they’ve done in trying to bridge the gap between the previous coaching staff and the new one and to help the Panthers deal with the challenges they face along the way/
"It has been such a honor to be head coach for such a great group students and organization," Vang said. "I want to thank everyone for making this job such a great experience. I also want to thank Susan Gunter for volunteering to ride the bus when I can't. This season would not have been possible if she did not step up and take on that responsibility."
That sort of teamwork is core to the mission this season and with the Panthers slated to compete in the Wooster sectional and district tournament at the College of Wooster next month, the season is moving quickly and the level of competition for an inexperienced squad is high. Adding more wins to their individual and doubles records in the remaining contests would serve as a confidence boost for the young team and allow it to build on those core principles Vang has begun building around.