Kareem Kassas delivers advice to his Dubuque Hempstead teammates every day at practice following warm-ups.
The Mustangs’ senior has been thrust into the leadership role this spring, and he’s taking it head on at the top of the lineup as Hempstead’s No. 1 player — just two years removed from playing at the No. 5 position.
“It’s going pretty well,” Kassas said. “I’m trying my best at least. My teammates are helping me through the process, so I can’t complain.”
Kassas cruised to a 6-1, 6-0 win at No. 1 singles over Western Dubuque’s Cayle Hermsen on Tuesday, then joined teammate Jake Althaus in a 6-0, 6-0 sweep at No. 1 doubles as the Mustangs blanked the Bobcats, 9-0, at Roos Courts.
“He’s new to the leadership role, but he’s really stepped into it,” Hempstead coach Andrew Roos said of Kassas. “After stretches each day in practice the team comes around him and he gives the advice for the day. The team really seems to be forming around him well.”
Hempstead improved to 8-5 on the season as Althaus (No. 2), Colin Nelson (3), Gabe Noel (4), Grant Nelson (5) and Kunal Chugh (6) all won in singles for the Mustangs. Noel and Grant Nelson triumphed at No. 2 doubles, while Colin Nelson and Chugh won at No. 3.
“We’re starting to put it together,” Roos said. “We had a few rough matches early, but we’re hoping to be playing at our best here come districts.”
Kassas’ parents are from Syria, and he was born in Alabama before moving to Dubuque at a young age. He started playing tennis in elementary school, but didn’t get serious about the game until high school. He improved to 8-3 at No. 1 this season.
“When he was a sophomore he was really consistent, and more lacked pace and the top spin on the shots,” Roos said. “He’s worked on it the past couple years and that’s made him successful this year in the No. 1 position.”
Despite their junior season getting canceled, Kassas and Althaus put in the work over the offseason in preparation to be the anchors at the top of the Mustang lineup this spring.
“I have to give a lot of credit to Althaus, because playing with him a lot has been a very big part of my progress,” said Kassas, who will continue his career on the courts at Loras College. “I owe a lot of it to him. I just really like the sport and that’s what’s made me want to get better.”
All that time together has developed Kassas and Althaus into a strong unit.
“We’ve been playing a ton together and working hard,” said Althaus, a sophomore. “At Alpine (Tennis & Fitness) over the winter, we’d play every day there against each other trying to get better. It was really big. It really improved both of our playing styles, I think. It set us up good for a strong doubles season, too.”
While Kassas has slowly made his way up Hempstead’s lineup to No. 1, his play on the court has matched that ascent.
“The depth of his shots have really improved,” Roos said. “As a sophomore, his shots would land kind of halfway in the court, now they are all the way to the baselines. That really puts his opponents on their heels.”