Although he is only a sophomore, Jack Hibbard has been hitting tennis balls with the Wheeler program for several years.
“Jack came out and started working out with the varsity squad when he was in middle school,” Wheeler coach Mike Rosta said. “So it feels like he has been around here as part of the team for years, even though he is only a sophomore.”
While he might be “only a sophomore”, Wheeler’s young gun has laid his claim to the top spot on the Times No. 6 Bearcats.
“Jack earned the No. 1 singles spot this summer during our workouts and challenge matches,” Rosta said. “He worked very hard over the offseason to improve his game, and those improvements were obvious when we got together as a team.”
Hibbard ran his record to 8-1 on August 30 when Wheeler (8-1, 2-0) thumped rival Bishop Noll 5-0 in Greater South Shore Conference play.
“That was a big win for me and a big win for the team,” Hibbard said. “The last two years we had very tough 3-2 matches with Noll. So we felt that this win gave us a little separation in our conference.”
Costa has been most impressed with the maturity level displayed by Hibbard on and off the court.
“We were tied 2-2 in our match with Michigan City Marquette,” Rosta said. “And No. 1 singles would determine the match. I asked Jack if he was nervous and he said he couldn’t be more pumped. He was relishing the challenge.”
Hibbard defeated Marquette’s Quinn Porter in three sets, taking the third set 7-5.
“I have been playing well so far this year,” Hibbard said modestly. “I think my success has had a lot to do with being mentally prepared. There are no easy matches at No. 1 singles, so I have to come out every day mentally prepared for a three-set grueling match. If I keep my head in the right place, my game follows.”
The mental concentration and focus has resulted in a significant drop in unforced errors this year.
“Last year I had too many unforced errors and gave too many points away,” Hibbard said. “I got away with it a few times because I was at No. 3 singles. But I knew I wouldn’t be that lucky this year.”
Hibbard’s father played tennis in college, and has helped his son’s game grow.
“My Dad and several other family members are really into tennis,” Hibbard said. “I got a lot of quality coaching from family members. It was a natural sport for me to play. I used to play other sports, but I eventually gave them up. Tennis is where my heart is.”
The Bearcats play in a very tough sectional with Portage, Valparaiso, and Chesterton. So far, they have not had the good fortune to break through and bring home a championship.
Hibbard hopes that can change this season.
“We have to play some very tough teams to get a sectional championship,” Hibbard said. “We think maybe we have a better chance this season. We have been playing well, and we have a tougher schedule this season.”
Rosta has been scheduling matches and tournaments with schools from the Indianapolis area to help prepare his team for the rigors of postseason play. Hibbard’s only loss this season came at a tourney against Lawrence North.
“I learned a lot from the loss,” Hibbard said. “Our team got a good dose of some tough schools that weekend. I think that’s going to help us a lot against the teams in our sectionals.”
The Greater South Shore Conference tourney is scheduled for Saturday at 9 a.m. at Hobart High School.