By Shane Frederick
Free Press Staff Writer
Dan Berry didn’t pick his buddy, didn’t pull rank.
When the Mankato West boys tennis team was sent out to do a drill in practice earlier this week, the senior paired up with a freshman he didn’t know very well and even let the new kid hit first. That meant Berry had to toss balls to the rookie as he waited for his turn.
“That’s leadership,” coach Adam Doll said.
Berry enters the spring season with a couple of new roles, one as a team leader, the other as a singles player.
“He shows by example,” Doll said. “He works hard.”
Berry will start the season as the Scarlets’ No. 2 singles player after spending most of his junior year in a No. 1 or No. 2 doubles paring.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Berry said. “I haven’t done much of it. It will be exciting to do something different this year.”
Doll said Berry is not an overpowering player, but no one on the team hits more consistent strokes. A patient player, Berry should be able to outlast, perhaps even frustrate, opponents and win some key matches against Big Nine and section opponents.
“He rarely makes unforced errors,” Doll said. “He relies on opponents to make mistakes, which is why we’re thinking about him in a singles spot. He’s very consistent.”
Opponents’ mistakes could be errors but they also could be poorly placed shots that Berry finally sends cross court or down the line for a winner.
“Just a normal passing shot,” he said. “I’m not going to hit a low-percentage shot that might not go in.”
If there is a player on the West team who will do that, it’s senior Bill Leitch, who will play at the No. 1 singles spot for the second year in a row.
“He’ll have a very solid year,” Doll said. “We’ll heavily lean on Bill to do some work at the No. 1 spot.”
From there, Doll said the lineup will continue to be tweaked.
“The only thing set in stone is that Bill is No. 1,” Doll said. “But we have plenty of time to figure it out.”
Other seniors include Kyle Sandmann, Isaiah Stock and Jacob Snyder-Hansen. Others competing for spots include freshman Kieran Townsend, who played No. 1 doubles last year, as well as juniors Mike Fetter, Miki Mir and Calvin Miller and sophomores David Pietsch and John Kurtz.
“A lot of it is going to be about consistency this year,” Doll said. “Putting the ball in play. Working on opponents’ weaknesses. We’re not going to have anyone too powerful, but we’ll be savvy.”
Doll said the Scarlets hope to be one of the top two teams in the subsection again. Last year, West was second, and East/Loyola was first.