When the boys tennis season began, Columbus North had only one player with significant singles experience.
Kevin Luo, who saw varsity singles action in each of his first three years, didn’t win the No. 1 singles spot, but he didn’t let that get him down. While fellow senior Aditya Mantri, who missed last season after having wrist surgery, beat Luo in the challenge matches for the top spot, Luo has been solid at No. 2 singles for the Bull Dogs.
“I thought that I had a pretty good chance to (play No. 1 singles), but so far, he’s deserved the spot,” Luo said. “That might change, but right now, I’m fine. I was a little disappointed that I lost to Aditya, but he’s been playing well, and I just wanted to still do what I can for the team.”
So far, that’s mostly been win. Luo is 10-4 at No. 2 singles going into Saturday’s Conference Indiana Tournament at Bloomington South.
“When I have him and Aditya play each other, he can’t seem to get past Aditya,” North coach Kendal Hammel said. “I don’t know if it’s a mindset or if it’s just the style that Aditya plays versus what Kevin likes to play against. But he has really grown into that (No. 2 singles) position. I know a lot of people thought he might be playing No. 1, but I’m pleased with what I’ve seen in his improvements.”
Luo is coming off a 6-0, 6-0 shutout of Bloomington South’s Conrad Schlegel on Tuesday. The Bull Dogs fell to the Panthers 3-2.
“I feel like I can compete against anybody I play and that I should be able to do well in the conference tournament,” Luo said. “I think I’m a more consistent player overall, and I also think I’m a bit stronger and faster. I don’t think that I improved as much as I would have liked to over the offseason, but so far this year, I’ve been improving, so I feel good about where I’m at.”
Hammel said he feels like Luo has improved since the beginning of the season.
“He’s had a good senior season,” Hammel said. “He’s doing some things better that were some of his weakness spots. He’s volleying better. He’s actually mixing things up a little bit more and not trying to hit the ball so hard all the time now. He’s varied some of his game style, as well as improving on some of this shots.
“He can go big in the groundstrokes, but I’ve noticed in the last couple matches he’s taken a little off on the ball and kept some balls in play,” he said. “His serve has always been good, and his power has always been good. It’s just a matter of a little more finesse shots, the underspins and the volleys that have been some of his weaknesses are starting to get better this year.”
Luo is undecided about whether he’ll try to play tennis in college.
“It depends on where I go, but tennis will not be my main focus,” Luo said. “If I went to a smaller school, maybe, but I guess it just depends on what I want to do in college, which I’m not sure of yet.”
Columbus North will take on 10th-ranked Bloomington North in the semifinals Saturday. After that, the Bull Dogs will play either No. 16 Bloomington South or Perry Meridian for first or third place.
Those matches should give Columbus North a look at where it stands in comparison to the Bloomington schools prior to a possible regional matchup. But the Bull Dogs will first have to get past a Columbus East team that they beat only 3-2 in the regular season in the sectional.
“We knew that we would have a lot of work to do this year, but that we could be a good team,” Luo said. “I know that we can go pretty far as a team.
“I’d love it if we can get to state, but first, we have to focus on beating East,” he said. “Then if we go to regional, it will be tough because whichever Bloomington school shows up there, we might have a bit of trouble against. But if we can win regional, that would be great.”
Conference Indiana Tournament
Saturday at Bloomington South
10 a.m.: Columbus North vs. Bloomington North
10 a.m.: Bloomington South vs. Perry Meridian
Noon: Championship and consolation matches