Sriram Sugumaran had no complaints about his freshman year at Grinnell College. He formed lifelong friendships, experienced success on the tennis court and enjoyed the classroom environment.

Still, Sugumaran felt some emptiness being 125 miles from home.

Sugumaran lost his father unexpectedly midway through his senior year at Pleasant Valley, a couple weeks after he chose to attend Grinnell. His mother, Vanitha, was at home raising his younger brother Srivishnu.

"It did put a lot of strain on me," Sugumaran said. "I didn't feel like I was doing as much as I could to be part of their lives. After a year, I was struggling dealing with both sides."

Sugumaran made the decision to move back home.

It has turned out to be a win for his family and the Augustana College men's tennis program.

A former Iowa Class 2A state doubles champion, Sugumaran is 14-7 in singles and 21-11 at No. 1 doubles for the Vikings, who face Luther at 9 a.m. Friday in an NCAA Division III first-round dual in Chicago.

"It has been wonderful coming home," Sugumaran said. "(Grinnell) was great, and I still visit and have contact with those guys, but family was the underlying reason to move back home.

"I couldn't be happier I ended up doing this."

Sugumaran is living at home and making the 15-minute commute to campus for classes and practice. It also has given him the opportunity to spend additional time around the PV tennis program.

"It is the best thing I could have done for myself," he said. "Mentally, I've been a lot better being at home. I've done more to help out at home."

He serves as big brother and father figure to Srivishnu, an 11-year-old who Sugumaran said will eventually become a better tennis player than he is.

"It is challenging in how I should act with him," Sugumaran said. "There are times I have to play that role, but I want him to feel I'm more like a brother than a father figure. Having that relationship is important for me."

The sophomore admits there has been an adjustment fitting in with the Vikings, too. He has tried to provide leadership, particularly in doubles.

Sugumaran has teamed with Peter Alex. The tandem is 17-9 in dual meets, including nine consecutive wins.

They form an intimidating pair at the net with their 6-foot-4 frames.

"We feed off each other so well basically by our movement on top of the net," Alex said. "Sriram is great at moving side-to-side and up and back. We're in sync, so it makes it easy to play together."

Sugumaran had played the ad-side of the court for doubles his entire career. He started this season on the deuce side.

"We did that so we could get some early points in games where my partner was getting forehand volleys off my returns," Sugumaran said. "We struggled early in the season getting into a lot of returns just because our movement was sluggish.

"I switched back mid-season, and our success has been a lot better with movement and confidence."

The 21st doubles win came last week against Wheaton in the championship of the CCIW tournament.

Besides giving Augustana a 2-1 lead in the dual, it established a new single-season school record for doubles wins, breaking the mark of 20 by Sam Totten and Eric Pohl in 2015-16.

Augustana (24-6) has plenty of depth in its singles lineup. Sugumaran has manned the No. 3 spot for most of the season.

Sugumaran holds PV's school record with 80 singles wins. He was 44-0 during his junior year in singles and doubles, capped by a state championship with Charlie Humes in doubles.

"Sriram has an incredible IQ, especially when it comes to doubles," Augustana coach Jon Miedema said. "He's able to step in and help teach guys on positioning because we have some players who have played a lot more singles than doubles."

Miedema had heard of Sugumaran but didn't know much about him until last summer.

Sugumaran reached out to Miedema about joining the program once he decided to transfer.

"The day when his tuition deposited, my boss reached out to me immediately and remembered him and knew him in high school," Miedema said. "It was him setting things up, and we were the beneficiaries."

Augustana lost to Luther 7-2 in a dual meet on April 28. The Vikings were missing a couple regulars from their lineup. Luther is coached by former Augustana coach Adam Strand.

The winner advances to play second-ranked University of Chicago on Saturday.

"We need as much energy as we can get," Alex said. "Morale can get low as final (exams) come. It is up to us to feed off each other's energy and stay together."

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Sports Editor

Prep sports editor, with emphasis on covering the Mississippi Athletic Conference and Iowa area high schools. I've been in sports journalism for 17 years, the last five at the Quad-City Times.