Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Story at the Concord Invite: Matches #3-#5

This was a very long, emotional, and intense day. We finished 2nd behind Concord, and I'm really proud of everyone. We all had shining moments today. For now, 2 wins and 1 loss, and a lot of pride over the way we played.

The Lead: "So Close"
The day started with a 4-1 win and ended with a 5-0 loss. But everything in between was so stinking close.

The last match to end the day was the most emotional, as Nate Brendle battled, sweated, grinded, and gave absolutely everything against his good friend from Concord, senior Jason Denton. Jason will arguably be in the top 5 of our district this year, and Nate hung right with him. After dropping the first set, Nate found a winning formula in the 2nd. But it was so difficult to execute, as Denton punished any ball left short in the court with aggressive balls to the corners. With Nate unable to ever let his game drop, he roared through the second set with "C'mon's!" and "Let's go's!" He took a 5-2 lead in the set, only to see Denton play 3 spotless games to tie. The set went to a tiebreak, and the tension riding on each point was easily felt in the lobby of the Eastlake Racket Club where we were playing indoors. Finally, trailing 7-6, Nate saw a forehand fly long to end the close match.

I love words, but words aren't going to display how well Nate played and how proud I am of him. But I totally understand the disappointment he had after the match. He spent himself to try to beat the best, and got that close. With matches like this, he'll get another chance.

And of course, insanely close was the order of the day. After losing 5 players in the offseason from our varsity, if you'd have told me we would be 3 tiebreakers from taking a match to win the Concord Invitational, I'd have thought you were crazy. But the improvement of this young, inexperienced team has been rapid, and we found ourselves in that exact position at the end of the Concord match. Blake Shetler and Ike Lehman both had dominated the first set of their matches, only to get caught in the second. So as Nate entered his epic tiebreak with Jason Denton, Ike and Blake were entering 10-point tiebreaks to decide their split set matches.

After playing so well throughout the day, the pressure seemed to get to us a little bit. It's in these pressure situations that "inexperience" really becomes an issue. If we've never felt them before, they are hard to perform in. That was evident in Ike's match, and somewhat in Blake's as well. After taking early leads in the super-tiebreaks, both Blake and Ike fell in the match deciders. That made our Concord match score, 5-0, but with as close as we were in the singles matches, it felt nothing like that!

But we didn't only have close losses, we cashed in on some tight wins during the day. In fact, Evan and Abe put in their claim to closest match ever. Playing #1 doubles against Jimtown, Evan and Abe played fantastic, pushing Cole Peterson and Austin Ward to a tiebreak to end the first set. Peterson and Ward looked like the 2nd year varsity players that they are in pulling out 5 brilliant first serves in the breaker, and we threw in 2 double faults to lose the first set tiebreak. In the second set, they pulled ahead a bit and it was still on. They led 5-4 with a chance to push it to a third, but they couldn't finish. Then the Jimmies took a 6-5 lead. With Abe serving to stay in the match, I simply told the guys, "Hey, now you get to play 3 tiebreakers."

Sure enough, they took the game and entered a tiebreak to end the second set. This time, it was the Jimmies who felt the nerves, giving away several double faults. Abe and Evan finished points at the net, and on set point an overhead hung up for Abe to slam away. With Evan crying "Put it away!" Abe slammed the ball down, but it came back. The next shot though, Abe put down with authority, winning the set.

Onto the third set, 10-point tiebreak, where we promptly lost the first 4 points. But, with me crying for them to build momentum, Abe and Evan ran off an incredible streak of 7 straight points to take the lead. Finally, they led 9-6 with a chance to win the match. But, oh no, we were going much longer than that. Losing their first three match points, the Bruins actually ending up giving the Jimmies a match point. But that was erased with a double fault, and the match was tied at 10-10. Then Abe and Evan started a pattern of going ahead, getting the match point, but then getting tied up again. The tiebreak seesawed to 15-14 for the Bruins. It looked like the match was getting tied up again as the Jimmies got an overhead at the net and slammed it at Abe's feet, but while jumping out of the way Abe scooped up the bulleting shot and we won the match! 6-7, 7-6, (16-14)! Just, wow.

Close matches, and close to a wonderful team. So, so close...

The Hidden Narrative
Our continued search for our best lineup boiled underneath this whole match. Certainly, Nate and Blake have made #1 and #2 singles their positions, but the rest of the team is still in flux. While we won 4 out of the 6 doubles matches today, we are still far from settled on a lineup.

Throughout the day, we failed to win a match at #3 singles. Ike Lehman and Jesse Amstutz played well throughout the day, but we are still searching for the combination of consistency and smart aggression that wins at #3 singles. I was proud of the way these guys have taken to their new positions this season, I know that improvement will continue as well play.

At doubles, Joel Gerig and Parth Patel really played a great match against Jimtown. We weren't sure how they'd play, as it was their first match together and Joel's first real varsity match. Despite the nerves, they had an excellent win. In the Concord match, we switched them apart, and neither played quite as well. Abe and Evan won both of their matches together (against Rochester and Jimtown), and then lost when split apart against Concord. So, we continue to look, but the biggest thing is that everybody keeps getting better at the spots they do play.

Other Storylines
- Nate had a heartbreaking tiebreak loss, but he also dominated a first set tiebreak against Jimtown #1 Brett Aller. Nate had an outstanding day, getting his season record to 4-1.

- Our first varsity battle of the freshman happened today, in the first match as Jonathon Phoun took down Jesse Amstutz. Jesse played great, but couldn't find a way to break down Phoun's consistency.

- This is the 4th straight year that we've defeated both Jimtown and Rochester in this tournament. Only last year did we defeat Concord.

- Ike Lehman and Parth Patel really reeled off a great run against Rochester in the first round. After struggling to get going, they ran off 8 straight games to finish the match. The big difference? Movement and expectation!

- As we look at class matchups, Abe, Parth and Joel did well against the other sophomores they played today... with the exception of Concord's #2 doubles.

- Blake really hit his stride in the 2nd match of the day, playing an incredibly consistent, attacking style and securing us our first point against Jimtown.

- I always keep track of who clinches our wins (meaning who secures our 3rd point). Today Ike and Parth clinched the first match, while Nate clinched the 2nd. Blake's also got 1 clincher this year (against Goshen). Last year, Nate led us with 6 matches clinched.

- Everybody who played today got a win, except for Jesse Amstutz, which is a little unfair because he only got to play one match.

- I'm always grateful for the Bruin Tennis alumni who show up to cheer us on. Thanks for being there today Ben Mast, Luke Hostetter, and Kyle Miller.

- Of all the teams at the tournament today, we had the least returning varsity players from last year. Is it any wonder why I'm so proud of my team today! 2nd place is a wonderful result, and shows that the summer work paid off. I'm proud of all of you!

The Scores
#1S - Nate Brendle - 6-3, 6-0 - Aaron Stuart (12)
#2S - Blake Shetler - 6-2, 6-3 - Taylor Beck (12)
#3S - Jesse Amstutz - 4-6, 3-6 - Jonathon Phoun (9)
#1D - Evan Grimes/Abe Thorne - 6-1, 6-3 - Brant Eytcheson (10)/Alec Gehrich (10)
#2D - Ike Lehman/Parth Patel - 6-4, 6-0 - Justin Schroder (9)/Andy Feldmen (9)

#1S - Nate Brendle - 7-6 (2), 6-1 - Brett Aller (11)
#2S - Blake Shetler - 6-2, 6-0 - Jake Ward (11)
#3S - Ike Lehman - 3-6, 4-6 - Dan Gongwer (11)
#1D - Evan Grimes/Abe Thorne - 6-7 (2), 7-6 (4), (16-14) - Cole Peterson (11)/Austin Ward (11)
#2D - Parth Patel/Joel Gerig - 6-4, 6-3 - Augie Farwig (11)/Michael Hobbs (10)

#1S - Nate Brendle - 2-6, 6-7 (6) - Jason Denton (12)
#2S - Blake Shetler - 6-3, 2-6, (5-10) - Matt Kotva (11)
#3S - Ike Lehman - 6-3, 2-6, (6-10) - Trevor Warren (11)
#1D - Evan Grimes/Joel Gerig - 1-6, 0-6 - Sean Purcell (12)/Michael Eisman (12)
#2D - Abe Thorne/Parth Patel - 0-6, 1-6 - T Cunningham (11)/Tony Fenech (10)

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