Not having a coach allowed Nathan Simpson to see another side of Ian Landwehr. The Yorktown boys tennis team began practices this season with an interim coach, with players unsure who would be their permanent leader.
Landwehr, a sophomore on the team who’s undefeated and will begin play at the IHSAA state tournament today, sensed it was a good time for team bonding. So he was quick to offer constructive criticism to his teammates, eager to help them improve in preparation for the season. It was a gesture Simpson said teammates appreciated.
Landwehr had finished third at the state tournament as a freshman last season, outlasting the rest of his teammates. Last year’s state champion, Ronnie Schneider, had graduated, leaving the door open for another player like Landwehr to take the title this year. Yet he wasn’t thinking about himself as he practiced amid the uncertainty. He was thinking about the team.
“One thing that Ian didn’t have to do last year, that he did this year is step up as a leader,” Simpson said. “And he was a freshman last year, and never really played on a team before. Coming in here, he kind of felt maybe a little bit secluded.”
“And coming here, and not having a coach, and him having to step up and help lead this team. Even though he’s not necessarily a captain, he has to take a leadership role. That’s something that’s really helped him with his game, just off and on the court, is just knowing that he has that leadership role. Coach (Bob) Darby has done a great job of stepping up, but in that time that we didn’t have a coach, Ian really showed who he was, as a person and as a player.”
Bob Darby was named the Tigers coach and has coached the team throughout the season. Landwehr had never worked with Darby before, and said getting fresh ideas from Darby has helped him improve. He feels he has benefited from Darby’s level of intensity.
Landwehr is 26-0 this season, and his recent results have been dominant. He lost just three games in two matches at the Kokomo Regional last weekend.
He will face another undefeated player, Greensburg’s Collin Rigney (25-0), at 2 p.m. today in the tournament’s quarterfinals at Park Tudor High School. Landwehr has trained with Rigney in the past, but never played against him in a formal match.
As Landwehr discusses the brief period his team didn’t have a coach, he uses group pronouns, talking about it as a team ordeal and not bringing the situation back to himself. He saw a group of upperclassmen and younger players who needed to develop a bond, so he stepped in.
Landwehr said he began thinking in terms of himself only when the Tigers had been eliminated from the team tournament and it was time for him to begin his run through the individual series. Darby began to focus more on working with Landwehr individually.
As he prepares for his second run at state, Landwehr has grown. He is now 5-foot-8, having grown about two inches since last season. He feels the growth has helped him move better, covering more of the court. He’s also serving better.
He’s now 16 years old, and feels better equipped to handle the emotional aspects of competing at the state tournament than he was a year ago at 15.
“I feel a lot more confident,” Landwehr said. “I’m a lot more relaxed. I’m smiling, actually, more than I normally do on the tennis court.”
As Landwehr takes on Rigney and whatever opponent might come next (Park Tudor’s Danny Rayl would be his semifinal opponent), there is no doubt he has the support of his teammates, many of whom have come to voluntary practices with him since the team’s season concluded. Simpson said the Tigers will be bringing as many teammates as can fit on the bus to support him today.
“He thrives off that team support,” Simpson said.
Contact prep sports reporter Sam Wilson at 213-5807. Follow him on Twitter @SamWilsonTSP.