IOWA CITY, Iowa (BVM) — You can’t have a conversation about Iowa high school tennis without Iowa City West High School. Over the last 15 years, the Trojans have won eight state championships. Since 2010, they had made it to nine consecutive final fours and only three of those appearances ended without a state title.
“We’ve been in every state final since 2011 and obviously we’ve graduated classes every single year so we’ve really bought into this is the expectation,” Trojans head coach Mitch Gross said.
Gross has been the head coach for eight of the nine Iowa City West state championships. This year was not only a chance for him to lead his program into the history books, but also a chance for him to get his 300th win as a head coach.
“Even though we lost some guys we felt like we were in a pretty good position this year,” Gross said.
The Trojans were not only in a good position to win back-to-back state titles, but also tie Dubuque Wahlert for most state titles in the history of IHSAA boys tennis. Wahlert currently sits atop the record books with 10 team state titles. With the reputation that Iowa City West has in the tennis community, many were expecting the program to tie that record this season.
“One of the years we graduated five guys, ended up back in the state finals and ended up losing,” Gross said. “I remember one of the reporters asked about our disappointing season. I thought, ‘my gosh, this is a disappointing season?’ We took second in state with a pretty young team.”
Even with outside expectations high, the Trojans were entering the season as underdogs in their minds. According to Gross, they had lost their top four athletes, three to graduation and one who moved away. With only one senior on the team, a young Trojan squad was excited to prove they were ready to carry on the Iowa City West dynasty.
“We got hit pretty hard and we’ve had a couple other years like that where we get hit hard with graduation,” Gross said. “I think other teams always think we’re going to take a step back and we either make the finals or win a championship those years. I actually enjoy these years a lot where we kind of have a little chip on our shoulder when you hear the talk that this is the year to get West.”
Unfortunately, the Trojans will have to wait another year for their chance. In mid-April, after a month of waiting and delaying the final decision, the IHSAA announced all spring athletic seasons were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think we all knew it was coming so we were pretty prepared when it finally did drop,” Gross said. “There is definitely sadness with not having a season. The lack of the competitive season and the camaraderie of our team, those things have been missed for sure.”
The Trojans’ young team will stay mostly intact for next season. Iowa City West had only one senior on their roster this year, Pierro Ortiz. Even though they are excited to play next year, they are not forgetting what they lost this year.
The team has been in contact since the beginning of the quarantine to provide support for one another. They have also encouraged each other to keep training and playing tennis when they can to help keep them preoccupied.
On May 7, the day of their senior meet, the Trojans planned a drive by celebration for Ortiz.
Nothing will make up for the loss of this season. However, in a time when hope and a silver lining is needed, the Trojans can find some solace in the fact they will get another chance. This time, with even more appreciation for the team they are a part of.
The Iowa City West legacy will not end here, this is just another reason to carry it on.