Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Joel and Hans vs. NorthWood

All around us, matches were playing out just like they had in the regular season. In the Concord vs. Angola Regional Match, Concord was assuming they'd win the 3 singles positions. Angola's singles players had lost during the regular season in key matches, and you could see that they felt the pressure of doing that again. You could see they doubted. Meanwhile, in the East Noble vs. Fairfield match, the two teams had played during the regular season and East Noble had won the two doubles spots and #2 singles. As the match wore on, it looked like the same thing was going to happen.

So, before Joel and Hans went on, I pulled them aside and said, "Everyone is playing to their expectations, and they expect the regular season to repeat itself. But you guys are different, let's expect a change."

You see, during the season, Joel and Hans had lost to this NorthWood doubles team fairly decisively, the final score being 6-2, 6-3. And it would have been worse had NorthWood been focused throughout the second set, where they had gotten a 5-1 lead and then relaxed. That was one of Joel and Hans worst losses, in fact, one of only two matches that they'd lost in two sets.

So, we didn't want to repeat that, here in the Individual Doubles Sectional. Starting the first set however, it looked like it would be worse. Hans and Joel were nervous, unconvincing and filled with errors. They especially struggled with weak double faults, a sure sign of fear. The first set flew past as we lost it 1-6.

Simple advice, "Toss the ball and hit it. Don't think. You are awesome. Let's go!" During the week heading into this matchup, we'd been practicing with just Joel and Hans. As we'd played, I'd been hopping all around the court, hitting big shots from the baseline, putting big smashes away, hitting the angles. Every time I would hit a winner I would yell, "I am awesome!" Now, at the match, I explained to Joel and Hans that this was the attitude that they should have (only they shouldn't yell it out loud, that would be rude). That's what I'd tried to model for them, the thoughts that they should have as they play. Want the shot, hit the shot, be awesome!

This confidence let Joel and Hans start eliminating errors from their game. And as they hit more balls back, NorthWood hit more balls out. Suddenly, we'd taken a 3-0 lead in the second set and the NorthWood players were clearly frustrated.

But the Panthers made a good change in strategy. They slowed down, concentrated on placement over power and got back into the second set. However, Joel and Hans were playing great now, and no longer was NorthWood going to be able to control the match like they did in the first set. The second set went back and forth, but we never trailed. In the back and forth set, the early lead helped Joel and Hans capture the set 6-4.

Taking a break, Joel and Hans came out to talk to us and the excitement was readily able to be seen. Joel couldn't stop bouncing and Hans couldn't stop smiling. It was obvious that they were going to go out and play well in the third set because they were focused AND they were having fun. That's a dangerous combination. The third set started with Joel and Hans taking the first two games and it looked like they might run away with the set. A long third game went to NorthWood though, changing the momentum.

From then the match became unbelievable. Joel hit overheads, Hans slammed forehands. The NorthWood players hit aces on big points, they pounded passing shots. NorthWood took a 3-2 lead, a 4-3 lead, then Joel and Hans flipped it and went up 5-4. Serving for the match, Hans had a rough game and lost the Bruins lost quickly to tie it at 5-5. However, we were able to break serve back relatively easily to lead 6-5. Now it was Joel's turn to serve for the match. In one of his best serving games of the season, Joel led us to match point. A big serve into the backhand of the NorthWood player caused him to pop it up to Hans at the net. And... Hans missed a backhand volley into the net. And then we lost the game to go into a tiebreak.

I was worried going into the tiebreak, because it is tough to lose a match point. You are always thinking about that lost opportunity, even though you need to just relax and play. And my fears were starting to be realized as Joel and Hans went down 3-0 in the tiebreak. Yet, they had never stopped believing and playing awesome. A NorthWood volley went in the net. Then a return went in the net. Then we finished a volley. Then we had a 4-3 lead. From there, you could feel that the Bruins were going to win. We built a 6-4 lead, getting to another match point. With Joel returning, he hit a shot at the NorthWood net player. His volley clipped the bottom of the tape and we had won.

Joel and Hans had turned over their regular season match and imagined a different result. They had believed that they were awesome, and reality matched their faith. It doesn't always happen that you win just because you believe, because sometimes when you believe you are awesome and you play awesome, the other team is still just better. But in this match, it was one of those unbelievable moments where you play your best tennis, have a ton of fun, and beat an opponent you never had before.

Unbelievable and congratulations! This match will always be unforgettable for me.

#1D - Joel Gerig/Hans Miller - 1-6, 6-4, 7-6 (5) - Caleb Yoder (11)/Quinn Stillson (11)

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