Thursday, September 27, 2012

#20 - The End is Not the End

I absolutely detest writing these final match reports. In fact, if you look back through the seasons, you'll see that there are many years where I don't even bother reporting on the final match. We invest so much of ourselves trying to get to a place of success, and whenever we fall short, whether its at Sectional, Regional, or even the State finals, there is the pain of knowing that this team, as it is formed right now, will no longer be together.

So, here's the final match report, although it pains me to write it...

We came into the match against Jimtown knowing that we were the underdogs. To win would be an upset. They were 12-4 on the season. We were 13-6. They were conference champions. They had beaten us earlier in the season. They had 7 seniors comprising their varsity. We were going to have to battle.

But in this role, we were confident. We knew that we had a chance. There were several positions from our 3-2 loss that were close losses, and we had hope that we could turn them around.

To be honest, the match didn't get off to a good start for us. All of the positions, including Nathan Brendle who had only lost one match all year, were trailing at the beginning. All except for Ike Lehman, who took a lead at #3 singles. And the match was really tight. Calls were close and tempers were high.

One thing I have to praise today was the mental strength of our team. Despite the early deficits, despite the close line calls, despite having to call a line judge and having one called against us, we never really looked rattled. Nervous, yes. Rattled or mental intimidated, never.

First to rally through his match was Nathan at #1 singles. Down 4-3, he relaxed, stayed more patient and made fewer errors. He had been concerned about the team as a whole (as a good leader is) and had not been completely tuned into his match. He had looked a little tight (as happens at Sectional) and had been pushing a bit through his forehands. But when he got that focus and stroke going, he dominated his match. He was able to win 9 of the last 10 games for his win at #1 singles, guaranteeing that no matter what happened to us as a team, his season would not be over.

After a tight first set, #2 doubles got it turned around to start the second set. Quickly getting a 3-0 lead behind aggressive net play from Joel and excellent forehands from Hans, their bread and butter all season, they extended the lead to 4-1 and had several chances to get it to 5-1 or 5-2. Unfortunately, it what became a little bit of a Bruin pattern for the night, they couldn't convert the chances to extend the lead. Jimtown's confidence turned around and they picked up their play, combined with some help from the net cord, and on Hans' serve we faced match points. First, we had two chances to close to 5-5, but didn't get those to go our way. Then Joel hit a spectacular volley to deny Jimtown's first match point. But we couldn't deny the second, and the Jimmies had a point on us. Hans and Joel fought very hard in the second set, but much like our first match of the season against Northridge, we couldn't seem to convert the big points.

At #1 doubles, Himal and Parth knew they'd be fighting an uphill battle most of the night. They were facing the NSC Conference Champions in seniors Brett Aller and Cole Peterson. They were facing players who had both seen time at #1 singles in their careers. And Parth and Himal responded by playing their best tennis of the season. I've never seen Parth and Himal's returns be as crisp as they were tonight, or seen them play as much of an attacking net game. They kept the first set close, trailing only 2-3 after the first set of games. But, again following the patterns of the year, they couldn't keep up the play and lost the first set. Then they kept the second set close, until the end where the Jimmies pulled away. I was very proud of their play today, their hope and faith, but the loss put us down 2-1.

Abe Thorne had switched to #2 singles five matches from the end of this season. The switch had seemed to work against him, as he had been playing with a lot of confidence at #3 singles, and had been riding a 13 match winning streak there. The switch to #2 singles had then provided a 3 match losing streak, which he only broke in the last match of the Wabash Invite last Saturday. Going into this Sectional match, I was very nervous. He would be playing a senior with a lot of confidence, as Jake Ward had won the NSC Conference Championship at #2 singles on Monday night.

And in the first set, my fears seemed to be well founded. Abe couldn't get his feet moving, couldn't attack, couldn't get his serve going. He fell behind 5-2 and looked to be headed to a short match. In truth, any hopes we might have in the match hung on either him or #2 doubles, and both had started out down. Not helping matters were what seemed to be very close or very questionable calls against Abe at crucial points in the match. With it being Sectional, Abe didn't want to risk the calls being the difference in the match, and he didn't want to be worrying about whether they were right or wrong. So he called for a line judge, then lost the next point to lose the first set.

But the second set was a completely different story. Abe broke serve to begin the set, then held quickly with big serves for a 2-0 lead. Then it was 3-0, 4-0, 5-0, then 6-0 to send it to a third set. Throughout the second, Ward had been frustrated and hitting a lot of errors. In between sets I told Abe that this wouldn't continue, that he'd have to win the third with good tennis. He began the third with a great game. We've been working on Abe's rally shots and feet and they looked impeccable to begin the third set. Soon it was 4-0 in the second! Ward settled down at this point too, and he and Abe split the next 2 games. Fortunately for the Bruins, that was enough to give Abe a 6-2 third set win!

Which meant that the team match came down to what happened in the third set of Ike Lehman and Dan Gongwer's #3 singles match. Ike, despite his big lead in the first set, had to survive a super tight tiebreak in which he fought off one set point to win 9-7 in the breaker. In the second set, it had continued to be close, but Ike couldn't pull out the final points needed to close out the match.

So to a third set, where in the Sectional, it's usually the player who is more aggressive and energetic about imposing their style on the game wins. Ike fought through the first game, having several points to get off to a 1-0 lead, but instead fell in deuce. He then fought back to take the 2nd game and tie it at 1-1. But Gongwer was playing impressive tennis, the best I've seen him play in our limited matches against them the past two years. In fact, his level was probably better than when he played against Nate at #1 singles last year in the Sectional. Ike continued to battle, falling down 3-1 but then bringing it back to 3-2. Soon, he began to battle cramps in his calf as well. With the score 3-2, Gongwer played two excellent aggressive games. This put him up 5-2 on serve with a chance to win it for the Jimmies.

But boy, did Ike ever dig in to battle. First Gongwer, took a lead in the game, giving himself 4 different chances to close out the match. But each time, Ike was able to find a way to win the point. At deuce multiple times, Ike finally gave himself a chance to pull a game back when he crushed an overhead. Unfortunately, at the same time, he cramped and fell down on the court. Gongwer returned the overhead, but from laying on the ground Ike was able to see the ball fall out. Ike recovered from his cramp, then won the next point to pull back to 5-3.

But that was as close as it would get. On Ike's serve in the next game, he had a chance to make it 5-4, but couldn't convert. Then in the deuce, Gongwer dropped balls short in front of Ike that he just couldn't get up to in order to keep the match alive. Throwing himself at the last short ball, Ike's lunge floated long and Jimtown won.

Heartbroken is a good word to describe the end. As I've said in seasons before, you form a bond with each team in a special way. At the end, you know that this group will never be the same again. But it's not the end. It's never the end. You've got tons of love to remember. You've got a Bear warmup shirt :-) You've got your swag :-)

And Nathan gets to keep playing. So, really, it's not the end yet for Bruin Tennis 2012.

I'm proud of the team, and you'll have to check out the other post that I'll make today for more on that.

Let's always continue to win at love.

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

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