JOHNSTON — Newton’s Cardinals endured a long day on and off the tennis courts last Saturday at the Johnston Invitational. There were scheduled matches that didn’t get played because of prior commitments for Newton and other school’s players.
Newton ended up fifth as a team in the seven-team field at the tournament West Des Moines Valley claimed the team championship.
“Valley ended up walking away with the title, behind their individual champions in the singles flights. Everyone else was very tightly competitive,” Newton head coach Erick Zehr said. “I really felt like there were a great deal of 4-5 losses that if turned the other way, would have put us in the heart of the competition.”
Zehr called Saturday a “coming out party” for Maria Valbuena, a foreign exchange student from Columbia, to the state. Valbuena went 3-3 playing No. 1 singles for the Cardinals and placed fourth.
“Maria had an unbelievable weekend. Her first two matches were by far her toughest, but she was very competitive in both,” Zehr said. “Her first match was against Chloe Jeffries from Valley, who is considered to be on the short list of contenders for the state singles title. There may only be one or two players in the state better than Chloe. Maria played long points with her, took several games to deuce, and in general, frustrated her with how difficult she was to beat.”
Jeffries beat Valbuena 8-1 then she lost to Kayla Kuethe of Waukee, 6-3. One of those close matches going against Newton came next for Valbuena, losing 5-4 to Libby Bemis of Clarke. Valbuena bounced back with a three-match victory run, starting with a 7-2 win over Kayla Peterson of Ankeny Centennial. She also beat players from Johnston and Fort Dodge.
“The take away from her first two matches is that if Maria is playing well, she can go toe-to-toe with some of the best players in the state. Time will tell if she can beat them in full-length matches, but it is still exciting to know she is at least in their league,” Zehr said.
Newton senior duo Jennifer Ventling and Holly VanderPol played in the No. 1 doubles spot for the Cardinals. They opened with wins over Ankeny Centennial, 6-3, and Waukee, 7-2. VanderPol and Ventling dropped a 7-2 decision to Valley and claimed 5-4 decision over Clarke.
Then it was a waiting game for the Cardinal pair. Zehr said there was a two-hour gap between the Clarke match and their final two matches. Ventling and VanderPol lost to Johnston and Fort Dodge by identical 9-0 scores.
“They came out flat against arguably the best team in the state, from Johnston, and got blasted,” Zehr said. “Unfortunately, the only team remaining was the team that eliminated them at state — Fort Dodge — and they didn’t have anything left in the tank to stage retribution.”
Zehr said Ventling and VanderPol played very well, especially early on, but they still have a lot to work on, especially mentally.
“We need to be able to play against the best teams in the state and be OK with losing points, while still trying to figure out ways to limit them. We also need to work on figuring out ways to change the game when it isn’t going the way we want it to,” Zehr said.
Newton’s No. 2 singles player, McKenna Heisdorffer lost all of her matches on the day. She battled against Valley, losing 5-4. She also had 6-3 losses to Johnston and Clarke.
The No. 2 doubles team of Monica Marisa Modlin beat Clarke, 6-3, and Ankeny Centennial, 5-4, but lost 5-4 to both Fort Dodge and Valley. They also lost to Waukee and Johnston.
Newton’s junior varsity No. 1 doubles team of Kayla Corso and Megan Pressgrove went 3-3 and took third place. They recorded wins over Johnston (8-1), Clarke (5-4) and Fort Dodge (7-2) while losing to Waukee (8-1), Valley (5-4) and Ankeny Centennial.
“Kayla and Megan played well. This was Megan’s first varsity meet and she had only played two other tennis matches before Saturday,” Zehr said. “Kayla was a great leader and really anchored the team, and Megan’s confidence and contributions grew as the day went on.”
Sierra Griffith and Sam Cooling played the No. 2 doubles in junior varsity for Newton. They did not have a win “but didn’t play much either — they had to scratch because of band conflicts when the meet took so long,” Zehr said.
“A strong showing like this where you are very competitive with some of the better teams in the state is very encouraging, especially at this point in the season. Lots to be excited about going forward,” Zehr said.
The Cardinals are idle this week. Next up will be a trip to Grinnell, who is the preseason favorite to win the Little Hawkeye Conference title this season, on Tuesday. Zehr said Newton is one of maybe two teams in the conference with an opportunity to pull the upset.
“If we can make a strong showing in singles, and possibly grab an upset or two, it should make for a very interesting finish,” he said. “It’s a shame the inside track to the conference title will be up for grabs this early in the season, but we just need to focus on being ready to go, and doing what we need to do to be competitive.”