MOUNT VERNON — The Mount Vernon Yellow Jackets enter the 2019 spring tennis season with a lots of familiar faces and the hope for a breakthrough year.
Matt Dinnen is back as the Jackets’ No. 1 singles player. The senior has improved so much from year to year and looks phenomenal this year.
“Usually, I play him in practice, and so far he is kicking my butt,” said Mount Vernon tennis coach Jeff Jarosz. “I’m expecting great things out of Matt this year.”
Those hopes include seeing Dinnen challenge for the Ohio Cardinal Conference title this season. The OCC title would be a landmark event for Dinnen, as well as the Mount Vernon tennis program.
“Matt has always taken tennis very seriously,” Jarosz said. “He always strives to work harder and harder. Sometimes he gets down on himself if he has a bad day. I like him, because you know his mind is always geared to try to get better. Last year, he took the postseason champ to three sets, but he could not quite overcome the kid from Lexington because he was so good.”
Since then, Dinnen has been on a mission to get better.
“He’s been going to Lexington to play indoors with some of those Lexington kids, and now he is on par with those kids,” Jarosz said. “I’m giving Matt the hope that he can challenge for that OCC title. I would like to see him come out of this year being the best player in our league.”
Wil Kaufman, who played second singles last season, will return for his junior year. Although he is technically classified as a junior, this may be his last season. He is trying to graduate a year early to go into military service. In practice, he is hitting the ball impressively.
“I can say the same thing about Matt and Wil,” Jarosz said. “I think that they need to improve their mental aspect. What I mean about that is, when things go wrong, they cannot panic. Sometimes, in the past, they both will. If they are up 4-0 and their opponent wins one game, they would start to panic in their mind. Instead of calming down and knowing how to play the game and trust their skill sets, they would start to get nervous and things would snowball. Matt and Wil need to take each game as a separate game. If they lose one game they need to move on. As long as they keep their confidence up and keep their heads level they are going to succeed.”
Senior Harry Ogle, on the other hand, is the opposite. This year, Jarosz will move up Ogle to the No. 1 doubles spot, and will audition a few of his returnees to see which one will make Ogle’s best partner. As the middle linebacker on the football team, Ogle’s positive personality infects the entire team.
“Harry always plays with this ‘I’m doing well’ attitude,” Jarosz said. “’I have confidence in my ability.’ Even if the other kid is better, Harry is thinking, ‘I can be more consistent. Maybe I can make the guy run more,’ so, I am trying to get the balance of those kids and for them to teach each other. … If I could incorporate those two ideas into all players, we would have a successful season.”
The Jackets come from all different sports backgrounds. Besides football, the Jackets have a wrestler and three soccer players on the squad, as well as some bowlers.
“These are kids that are trying tennis as a second sport, which is great,” Jarosz said. “We just want kids to come out, have fun and try something new. If I can make them a lifelong tennis player, then I have achieved my goal.”
Ryan Peeples and Matt Sabula will see more action this season at the varsity level. Both played a couple of varsity matches last year, but were more a part of the junior varsity. Look for one of the two to partner with Ogle on the first-doubles team.
“They are going to have to jump into the varsity lineup,” said Jarosz. “Both of them will be playing doubles this year. Through the first couple of practices they appear to have shown great improvement and they’re going to have to carry the load on that varsity lineup.”
New for 2019 is senior Solvi Gunderson. That’s a familiar name to Jackets’ fans who know Gunderson from the soccer team. He has never played team tennis before, but during the first couple of practices, it is very clear that he has had some tennis background. He has a good stroke and good footwork. He may be a good bet to play third singles.
Other new players include Matt Sabula’s younger brother, Brian, a freshman. Brian comes to the team with a little bit of a background in tennis. He has taken a couple of lessons with Alvin Chang and he is keeping up. There are also two brand-new players — Bryce Willis (a soccer player) and Jack Staatz. The latter is a family affair, because Jack’s sister is a two-year player for the Jackets’ girls tennis team. While neither Staatz or Willis have any real tennis background, both are showing an aptitude for the game.
“They are picking up how to hit a ball correctly, with lots of topspin,” said Jarosz. “When we have played some small rally tennis matches, they are being successful against some of the other players.”
Jarosz also has a pair of players who have been there since he started coaching at Mount Vernon. They are his twin sons Ethan and Alex.
Rounding out the group are a pair of freshmen, Dylan Hartman, who was a wrestler during the winter, and Beckett Pinchon-Elkins. They are brand new to the game. Although Beckett didn’t play in middle school, he did some summer work with Mount Vernon coach Steve Tier.
“We are working really hard on getting correct form with these guys, and they are picking it up,” said Jarosz. “It’s a little slower than everybody else, but they are working hard to get caught up with everybody.”