Boys tennis: Schmidt takes next step in tennis career

OTTUMWA — It appeared as though it would be another tough day on the court for Toby Schmidt on Tuesday against Abhay Anil.

Just 11 days earlier, Anil came within a game of completing shutting out the Ottumwa senior on the brand-new home courts of the Bulldog boys tennis team. With a 6-0, 6-1 win in the top singles match, Anil had sparked Iowa City High to a 5-4 win in the Class 2A substate semifinals putting a damper on the opening weekend for Dan Staggs Family Courts.

On Tuesday at the Hawkeye Tennis and Recreation Center, Anil seemed poised for another dominant win over Schmidt at the Class 2A boys state singles tournament winning the opening set of the opening-round rematch 6-0. Schmidt, however, refused to go out quietly in what proved to be his final day competing for the Ottumwa High School boys tennis program.

Over the next three sets, a few key points prevented Schmidt from making one last run at state championship, or at least a state medal. Despite the resiliency of Schmidt, Anil advanced to the state quarterfinals with a 6-0, 7-5 win over the Bulldog senior.

Ultimately, neither Anil nor Schmidt would be secure a medal at the competitive 2A state singles tournament. Schmidt lost two more tough sets against Muscatine senior Ryan Kirkpatrick 7-5 and 6-4 in a consolation match closing out a chapter in the tennis career of the Ottumwa senior.

"The biggest lesson I've learned from playing at state is just how important it is to be confident in your own game," Schmidt said. "Everyone up there is good. Everyone up there is competitive. You have to earn every point. You have to stay in it mentally and you have to be on the edge all the time."

In between the postseason showdowns with Anil, Schmidt began writing the next chapter of his tennis story. The two-time state qualifier inked his letter of intent to play college tennis starting next season at Wheaton College in Illinois.

"I'm looking forward to continuing my career. I still have to make the team, but I'm counting on it," Schmidt said. "I'm happy to have the opportunity to go on and play collegiate sports, especially tennis. I'm glad this wasn't my last meet. I know I've got more tennis to look forward to in my future."

Schmidt is just the latest former Ottumwa player in recent years to secure a chance to play college tennis. Caleb Vasconez, the 2019 Ottumwa High School Senior Male Athlete of the Year, became a four-time letterwinner playing for Simpson College including serving as the team's top player last spring as a senior while twin brothers Quin and Trey Hull wrapped up their sophomore seasons at Central College earlier this month.

Schmidt has spent time on the court with those former Bulldogs both as teammates with the Hull brothers as an underclassman and as a competitor with all three during the Dan Staggs Tennis tournaments. Schmidt's current plan is to prepare for his first season of college tennis by working with many of the great minds and talents that have also developed their skills in Ottumwa over the years.

"My plan is to keep playing during the summer up until I leave," Schmidt said. "They'll have a fall season, so I'll be getting the chance to play year round. I'm looking forward to keep improving and continuing to get better."

Before heading off to Illinois, Schmidt is planning on competing in the sixth-annual Dan Staggs Tennis Tournament having won multiple titles including the doubles championship last summer with Logan Storto edging the Hull brothers in a 6-1, 2-6, 7-5 thriller. This year's tournament could be even bigger as Dan Staggs Family Courts, the new eight-court tennis facility built just north of Ottumwa High School, provides a brand-new stage for the potential growth of the sport for several years to come.

"I think this shows all the students in Ottumwa that we're no longer on the lower end of the totem pole," Schmidt said. "We have access to a lot of stuff and we're pretty fortunate to have what we have. That can be inspiring. Hopefully, it inspires younger kids to go out for tennis and give it a try. I'm looking forward to seeing what the program is going to look like in the years to come."