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Marion tennis aiming high in 2019 season

GIANTS: Vikram Oddiraju swings at a forehand return during a drill at Marion's tennis practice Tuesday evening on Bill Beekman Courts while Caleb Spitzer looks on. The Giants host Delta in a scrimmage on Monday then start the regular season with home matches against Yorktown and Lapel on Aug. 21-22.

BY SCOTT HUNT - shunt@chronicle-tribune.com

Expectations rarely vary when it comes the Marion's boys tennis program, no matter how the team changes from year to year.

And the 2019 season is no different for coach Doug Porter and the Giants.

Marion didn't escape graduation losses from its 19-4 sectional championship team last fall, but Porter returns five of his top seven players, including No. 1 singles player Noah Lyons and Vikram Oddiraju, who went 24-0 at No. 2 singles a year ago.

Junior Jack Fauser, who teammed with the graduated Jonathan Walts to go 21-2 at No. 1 doubles, will ascend into a singles spot for the Giants this season.

It's the doubles teams where Porter is trying to find answers. 

"We lost Jonathan Walts and Ethan Eltzroth that provided a lot of doubles experience over their careers,” Porter said Tuesday during media day at Marion High School. “Both of those guys played varsity doubles almost their entire career. So that leaves some big gaps in the varsity doubles line up.

“Caleb Spitzer brings back varsity doubles experience but the rest is pretty much up in the air,” he added. “We have a lot of seniors to fill those spots, but in terms of varsity experience, not quite so much. So there is a lot of work to do in our (doubles) lineup.”

The Giants have a roster with nine seniors, but only Lyons, Caleb Spitzer and Cole Madden have much varsity experience from that class. Madden played No. 3 singles for most of last season and could fill one of the doubles spots. Seniors Tristan Galeon, Nihal Nagesh, Partick Spitzer and sophomore Alex Spitzer are also doubles candidates.

Porter said its an open competition between five players to fill the three doubles spots along with Caleb Spitzer.

“We've got to find what combinations work well, that's part of doubles, finding players that compliment one another,” Porter said. “We're still in that process.”

While finding his doubles combinations will take a little time, Porter said the three singles positions are solidly set, though there may some battles for who slots in where.

One thing all three of the Giants singles players share, according to Porter, is a strong work ethic.

“We have a lot of strength in those three guys,” Porter said of Lyons, and his juniors Oddiraju and Fauser. “Jack has played doubles both of his first two years and put his time in at doubles. His heart, his strength is at singles. … He's done what's best for the team. Now I feel like its his time to shine where he's most comfortable at which is singles.

“Jack is playing outstanding tennis. He has worked so hard at his game in terms of lessons and camps and tournaments,” Porter added. “He's lived on the tennis court this summer and improved so much. He's going to be a force to be reckoned with.”

Porter had trouble coming up with the words to describe Oddiraju.

“.I don't even know right now where the superlatives begin with Vikram,” he said. “He's playing that well right now, so I'm excited for his season. He's always wanting to improve. We're still determining where the pieces are going to fall with Noah, Vikram and Jack.

“Noah is Noah. Noah is one of the hardest working players that you're ever going to coach,” Porter continued. “His passion for the game, his love for the game is hard to match. With those three guys leading your team, it's a great foundation to start with.”

As for expectations, competing for North Central Conference, sectional and regional championships are the norm for Marion tennis, and those goals are at the top of the list as the Giants embark into the 2019 season.

Marion won the NCC two years ago but fell to Ole Miss in the sectional championship. The Giants were runner up in the NCC to Richmond last season but wrestled the sectional title back away from the Indians.

But aspirations are high as Marion prepares for the opening week of the season.

“(Coach) Porter doesn't like us talking about the future, especially past sectional because we know we have to play Mississinewa and that is always going to be a tough match,” Lyons said. “Delta has always gotten the best of us (in regional) but this year we're feeling pretty confident that we can get past Mississinewa and we can hopefully get past Delta.

“We're just going to work our hardest and hopefully get what we want,”