GLENWOOD, Iowa — It didn’t take long for the Glenwood boys tennis team to realize they added an invaluable talent in the offseason.
Senior Joel Ibanez, a foreign exchange student from Tarija, Bolivia, is in his first season competing in the United States and currently is 5-0 in singles and doubles as the No. 1 player for the Rams.
“Last fall I had Adam Konfrst play with him when (Joel) arrived and Adam texted me pretty quickly to say, A, he was pretty good and, B, we were pretty lucky to have him,” Glenwood coach Kevin Tucker said. “Once I saw him out on the court, it was pretty clear-cut how good Joel is.”
Konfrst, the expected No. 1 prior to his senior season, was humbled learning of Ibanez’s skill. The two quickly developed a friendship and are unbeaten in doubles nearly halfway through the season.
Konfrst was part of Glenwood’s first-ever team to make it to state as a sophomore and finished third at state in doubles as a junior.
“Ever since the beginning we have been friends,” Ibanez said of his relationship with Konfrst. “We get along with each other and I think our talking (on the court) has been very good.”
Having someone there to help him learn the ropes was vital to Ibanez’s development, who had only been to the United States on vacation prior to this year and was not as fluent in English as he would have liked.
While he took some time to get used to the American culture, Ibanez was ready on the tennis court. He had experience playing with the Tarija Tennis Club in Bolivia, where he often practiced multiple times a day.
The one adjustment he had to make was transitioning from a clay court to a hard surface, but Konfrst said his new teammate’s talent won out.
“He’d only played on a hard court one other time and he still dominated me like 6-1 or 6-2 or something like that,” he said. “And so that’s when I knew he wasn’t a fluke.”
As a team, the Rams have shut out their opponents in four of five matches.
“I think both Joel and the team have a great shot to get to state,” Tucker said. “Him and Adam both have realistic shots to be state champions … Adam took (Joel) under his wing and there was that bond, something you definitely need in doubles.”
Ibanez isn’t familiar with state competitions, but he has no doubt he can perform at his best if he is able to make it to Cedar Rapids. He plans to move back to Bolivia in June.
“I didn’t know what the state competition was before but I see now what it is and that it’s a pretty big tournament,” he said. “I think I can play my best just like it’s another match.”