Sunday, August 26, 2012

#06 - Why We Practice

I wish we could all start the tennis season as better players than every team we play. In 2010, when we lost to only 2 different teams on our schedule, we had the luxury of knowing that in almost every match, our players were simply better. Ben Mast was the better #1, Seth Krabill was a better #2, and Nathan Brendle was the better #3, etc, etc. It was comforting and relaxing in many ways... but most seasons aren't like that.

Most seasons we start out somewhere in the middle. Some teams are better than us, some teams return more talent, some teams return less but have worked very hard, some teams are having down years. And we're usually somewhere in there.

Most seasons are decided by who really gets better during the season. Who makes adjustments. Who is playing their best, most confident tennis at the end of the season. Who figures out strategies to win with what they have. Who makes the most of their team support. Who can stay focused.

The Jimtown match is a perfect example of that.

Jimtown had 8 different players play a varsity match against us last year. All 8 return. We return only 4 of our players that played last year (Nate, Abe, Ike, and Parth). At the beginning of the season, it certainly seems like Jimtown is in a good position to defeat us this year, and make a good run in the postseason.

But can we get better during our practice season? Can we harness our mental abilities and focus? Can we put in the time and be ready?

We seem to be moving that direction.

In this match, Nathan easily won the #1 singles match. It was the first match to come off the courts, and obviously, throughout his career, Nathan has put in the time to be a dominant singles player. This win moves his record on the season to 5-1. I was especially impressed by Nathan's continuing elevation of his mental approach to the game and his improving patience.

In every other match, we played great and yet it became obvious where we need to improve. #1 doubles ran into a great team tonight, A team that has played several seasons of varsity and were one of the better teams in the area last year. Despite their disadvantage in experience, Himal and Parth hung right in every game, often because of their ability to play smart at the net. These guys will have to continue to develop that strength, and add to their rallying from the baseline ability in further practices.

Joel and Hans had not faced an opponent like the Jimmies yet this year, a team that can hit the ball hard and will attempt to be the aggressor on every point. In the first set, Hans and Joel looked a little overwhelmed and timid. As the set wore on, they got the right attitude, but their movement continued to be a bit timid. The right attitude is harder to teach than the right strokes, so now we'll start on those strokes in practice. But their attitude alone brought them close, a 4-6, 5-7 loss isn't too bad.

Abe Thorne sealed a second win for the Bruins, once again going the distance on a Saturday morning match, and playing three close sets. He must really like playing in the weekend sun. His match was tight, as he took on senior Dan Gongwer, who played #1 singles at the end of last season. It was a really interesting tactical match, as Abe won the first set by keeping the ball deep, and then Gongwer took the second by forcing the points to be played closer to net. But in the third and decisive set, Abe displayed the mental composure that he's been working on, and also threw in some new wrinkles to give Gongwer different looks. It was a close set, with Gongwer actually taking a 5-4 lead and having three match points. Abe was able to save them all, one with a gasp inducing backhand volley that landed just barely in the corner. After the 5-5 tie, Abe began to play very confidently. Increasingly Abe's variety is important for the end of his season. It allowed him success today.

But the point that clinched the match for the Jimmies had already been won. Jimtown got their third victory at #2 singles, where Ike Lehman lost to Jake Ward. In the first set, Ike struggled with consistency against Ward's power. However, at the end of the set, he figured out how to be consistent and to battle. This consistency is key to Ike's game. He cannot be the one to make the final error, obviously, and is finding new ways to be in control of the point. In the second set, Ike held his serve beautifully with his consistency. However, the match got to a tiebreak and Ward stopped making errors. He calmed down, kept the ball in the court, and Ike didn't have an answer.

But that's why we practice, so that next time the match changes, next time we're tight, next time it is a 3-2 match, we'll have the answer.

Notes & Stats
- This is the second 5 match winning streak that we've had snapped by a 3-2 scoreline this year. We also had a 5 match winning streak against Goshen.

- 3-2 matches make for memories, one way or the other. If I was scripting a perfect season, we'd have lots of 3-2 matches, won and lost to make for better drama. Last season, we had nine 3-2 matches. We won 6 of those. This year we've already had four 3-2 matches, however we've lost 3 of those. We'll pick it up as we gain experience, and hopefully turn a couple more of these matches around.

- For as much as Nathan wins, tonight's match was his first 6-0, 6-0 victory! He had 5 different 6-0, 6-1 victories, but surprisingly had never had a double bagel.

- While Abe denied some match points, Ike had two points to level his match at one set apiece. Unfortunately, Ward was able to save these.

- Also in Ike's match, just like the Columbia City match, Ike went down big in the tiebreak. Trailing 6-1 he reeled off 4 straight points to draw within 1. He couldn't get the next one to tie up the tiebreak.

- Staying with Ike again, this is his third straight match with a tiebreak. Yea, he is truly that close.

#1S - Nathan Brendle - 6-0, 6-0 - Austin Ward (12)
#2S - Ike Lehman - 2-6, 6-7 (5) - Jake Ward (12)
#3S - Abe Thorne - 6-4, 5-7, 7-5 - Dan Gongwer (12)
#1D - Himal King/Parth Patel - 2-6, 2-6 - Brett Aller (12)/Cole Peterson (12)
#2D - Joel Gerig/Hans Miller - 4-6, 5-7 - Michael Hobbs (12)/Augie Farwig (12)

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