The road to state runs through Marshalltown this year.
After a one-year detour, the Bobcat boys' tennis team has its sights set on a return trip.
Serving as one of eight district sites for Class 2A, MHS brings back a proven leader in senior Ryan Shomo, who competed at state doubles in 2011 - the program's first appearance since 2005.
Shomo finished third in district singles at the No. 1 spot last year, while junior Kalei Platt is one of the other state hopefuls with district singles experience headlining this year's Bobcat bunch.
"Both Ryan and Kalei have been working hard this offseason and playing pretty well in our limited court time," said MHS coach James Christensen, who expects to advance a couple entries on to state. "We have high expectations for those two this year."
The Bobcats' top tandem tallied a combined 17-3 record in dual meet singles play a year ago, though they won't be alone in their pursuit to play in Cedar Rapids.
2013 Marshalltown Boys Tennis Schedule
(All meets 4 p.m. unless noted)
March 30, at Waterloo West, 9 a.m.
April 2, at Newton
April 4, SAYDEL
April 9, at Valley
April 13, BOBCAT INVITE, 9 a.m.
April 16, HOOVER
April 18, at Southeast Polk
April 22, URBANDALE
April 29, at Grinnell
April 30, AMES
May 2, at Mason City
May 3, at Fort Dodge
May 9, DISTRICTS (at MHS), 9 a.m.
Adding depth to the lineup are a quartet of varsity veterans in Drayton Lents, Adam Podhajsky, Ben Anzis and Jameson Eberline. Lents and Podhajsky competed in No. 2 district doubles last season as the Bobcats tallied a dual record of 6-5 including a 2-3 mark in the CIML Iowa Conference.
"We have a good chance of moving on to the team substate as well," said Christensen, noting the seasoning his squad will attain from a rigorous schedule that includes last year's state runner-up (Ames) and fourth-place finisher (Valley).
"We're in a tough conference as always. Going up against Ames a couple times and Valley is always tough. If we can finish above .500 in dual meets and send some people to state, that would be excellent."
Though losing four seniors from last year's varsity lineup, the Bobcats welcome aboard a couple senior newcomers in Blake Gimbel and Riley Wirth. While new to tennis, the duo could make an early impact.
"Those are two guys that Bobcat sports fans are pretty familiar with," Christensen said of the multi-sport standouts.
"It's their first time playing tennis - but they're real athletic kids."
Christensen expects Tyler Ashby and Kade Vopava to make a successful jump from junior varsity to the doubles lineup, while sophomores Andrew Walker and Eric Weinberg and shown promise in early practice sessions and will vie for the final few varsity slots.
What Marshalltown may be lacking in technical skill, it hopes to make up for in tenacity and heady play.
"Some of our guys don't have the prettiest strokes out there so we have to outwork some of the teams that get a lot of professional help throughout the offseason," said Christensen, who noted the Bobcats' movement skills as one area that must improve.
"Being able to outwork them with our feet and our minds will be key to competing."
While the lingering winter weather has limited the Bobcats' court time, Christensen has already seen some winning qualities from his club that should pay off down the line.
"These guys have a great competitive spirit and hate losing," Christensen said.
"Whether it's sprints at the end of practice, playing ping-pong at a team dinner or actual tennis on the court - they're just as competitive and that will really help them out come tournament time."
That competitive nature will be tested early as Marshalltown opens the 2013 campaign at the Waterloo West Invite - which includes a strong Cedar Falls squad - Saturday at 9 a.m.
"Cedar Falls is going to be real tough this year so it will be an immediate test of who we are as a team and individually for the guys from No. 1 to 6."