Friday, September 19, 2014

Letters from Elkhart Central

I realize that most days I've just been writing letters and not really describing what happened in the match. This was a really good story that I want to tell a little bit.

Elkhart Central came into this evening as the 5th ranked team in District 2. District 2 covers the northeast corner of the state, from south of Fort Wayne to all of the Elkhart county schools. So, that's a fancy way of saying they are a very good team. Going into the match, I knew that we had a good opportunity.

The matches started out very tense. Every position was close except for Sol's #3S match (that would change :-). We held slight leads at #2S and #1D and were down slightly at #2D and #1S. All of sudden, Byeong broke through and took a 3-2 lead into a 5-2 lead at #2S. His strokes and especially his accuracy began to break his opponent, who became more and more frustrated as the match progressed. Byeong took the first set and Elkhart's #2 could never really mount a challenge in the 2nd set.

The same pattern then followed at #1D. Holding a 4-3 lead we turned 2 games in a row to take the set. All of a sudden the floodgates opened and Hans and Simon were putting away volleys and gaining lots of points off errors. In the second set, the Blazers could not really fight back and we actually won the second set 6-0. So the Bruins had two points and needed only one more.

Except that the other positions had gone the other way. Jesse had lost the first set and now found himself down 1-4 in the second. Ryan and Ethan had lost a very tight first set 4-6, but now were down 1-5 in the second. Sol had won the first easily but now was down 2-5 in the second. These final matches made me very proud however.

Jesse turned off the voices in his head and played confident tennis. He turned his 1-4 deficit into a tight second set, getting to 4-5. At 4-5 he had some openings to get the match back to 5-5, but couldn't convert. Central finished it at 6-4 in the second set, but Jesse fought back and didn't give up. And speaking of not giving up, #2D found their game before it was too late. They came back from 1-5 between great net and baseline play, behind confident play, and tied the match at 5-5. Despite their comeback, the Blazers regrouped and won the set. Still, I can't say how proud it made me to watch #2D not throw in the towel, but instead return to how they wanted to play.

Speaking of playing how he wanted to, Sol had gut check time. He entered a third set with the knowledge that it all came down to him. And went down 2-0 to a free swinging competitor in Curtis Hill (who also played a great match under pressure). Despite this, Sol just played every point. Focusing on how he was playing, he got 3 games in a row to take the 3-2 lead. It went back and forth on serve until Sol led 5-4. With great aggression, he built himself an advantage. Twice Curtis Hill denied Sol's match points but Sol stayed aggressive in the deuces and never let Hill get an advantage. In the end, Hill unfortunately double-faulted for Sol to win the match.

It was a fun varsity match. It was intense. It had nerves. I was proud of how we pushed through! Now onto the letters...

Dear Team,
That was the best victory of the season. We played aggressive, we played well, we kept our nerve under pressure, we fought back when we were down, and we even learned and grew in the middle of our matches. I was really proud of the attitude that I saw from the whole team.

I was talking to several of the parents during Sol's final match, who were saying how intense this was, coming down to the last match on the courts. What I told them was that win or lose, 5 years from now Sol will look back at this match and remember how awesome it was. Especially if he plays how he wants to play. These are the types of matches that we play for, because they are so much fun.

And so I was feeling very conflicted at the end of Sol's match. I was very intense, because I'm a competitor and want to win. But underneath that I was very relaxed. I had already gotten out of the night what I wanted to see from it - our good attitude, our fight, and growth. It was fun, it enabled me to smile and stand back and take in the beauty of that last match. All of you guys there watching, all of their team watching, two #3S players pounding the ball back and forth(!).  It was such a high quality match. And I was actually happy.

The funny thing is that for as well as tonight went, for as much as we grew and learned and performed under the pressure - we still didn't play our best. Up and down the line from JV to varsity, there were things to improve. And yet we fought through, didn't get down, relaxed and dealt with the point in front of us.

Good job team. What a fun match that was!

Dear Sol,
It's funny the way that God helps us grow. On Tuesday, at Blackhawk, I'm sure that you didn't want to play a tight second set. I'm sure you didn't want to get tied up at 5-5. But then you relaxed, pulled through, hit aggressive and won 8 points in a row.

How well that served you tonight. In the third set, you played the way you want to play. You looked pumped up, but at the same time you looked relaxed and focused on just the next point. As a result, you played some of the best tennis I've ever seen at #3 singles. Well stroked, well attacked, well executed. Remember this feeling. It was epic!

Dear Curtis Hill,
All that I just said about Sol, I could say about you. You were an awesome competitor, you kept your cool, and you played with aggression under pressure. You are the type of player I admire. I loved that you had so much positive self-talk going on in between points. You kept your composure and you attacked every point. I loved it. Thanks for an awesome match.

Dear Jesse, Ryan, and Ethan,
In matches against good teams, it's easy to get discouraged when things don't go our way. In your matches tonight, you all experienced things not going your way. But then you breathed deeply, cleared your thoughts, and came back. So often, the scores of close matches will read like this: 6-4, 6-0 or 7-6, 6-1. That's because when the first set and first games of the second are lost, the losing player becomes despondent and gives in. I was so proud of you for fighting your frustration, letting go of your fear, and getting back to your best tennis. Great job.

Dear Jacob,
Before your match, I told you that you were going to win. I confess, I knew nothing about your opponent. I had no idea if he'd be awesome or awful. Turned out he was pretty good. But what I do know is you, and you are awesome. Never forget that you are a great player. Let that motivate your play.

Dear Lane and Brandon,
These things happen. You won your first and then lost the second to a weaker team. Learn from Sol, Ryan, Jesse, Ethan and more tonight. When you get tight, remember what it feels like to play your best. Take a deep breath, then go play the next point. And the next point only. Then do it all over again. I love watching you play your best. Go to your next match and find your joy in your next point.

Dear God,
You are a God of wonder. And I realized this night that I need to stare into that even more. The sunset tonight was a gorgeous orange over the cornfields that are in the midst of harvest right now. That was wonderful. The apples are bright and green and red and ready to be snapped into, which was wonderful, driving past the orchards tonight. Your patience, love, and encouragements are seeping into the hearts of this team right now. Continue to let us know who we are, and where our joy comes from. We are Yours, marked and sealed in Your Holy Spirit, unconditional sons of the Father of wonder. Thank you.

Moment of Sheer Beauty
Picking out a moment that made me smile, so I'll have to go with an ace from Hans. We don't have too many aces on our team. Despite being a good team, we don't have too many big serves. We have people who can force errors with their serves, but we haven't racked up very many clean aces.

In the #1D match, the first set was a close affair going back and forth a little bit. Hans and Simon broke serve to take a 5-3 lead and Hans began to serve for the set. The other team was trying to pump themselves up with some "Let's go's!" They won a point on the ad side and got real excited. Hans smiled, walked over to the deuce side, and fired an ace out wide past his opponent. That one good shot sung momentum back to the Bruin #1D. They closed out the set and then the match. One good shot is often all it takes.

Moment of Savage Beauty
Undeniably, this point has to come from Sol's match. And there were a lot of good ones. So I'll pick my favorite. On a game point at 3-3, Sol approached the net with a ball to his opponent's backhand. His passing shot popped up toward Sol close to the net and Sol pounded an overhead down into the court for the winner. It had such savage pace on it that it bounced up over the fence, then over the barrier fence behind the court and over the railroad track that ran behind the court. In every tense moment, Sol just kept playing aggressive and right through. Well done!


#1S - Jesse Amstutz - 1-6, 4-6 - Eric Burton (12)
#2S - Byeong Min Lim - 6-3, 6-1 - Andrew Salmon (10)
#3S - Sol Brenneman - 6-2, 2-6, 6-4 - Curtis Hill (11)
#1D - Hans Miller/Simon Hurst - 6-3, 6-0 - Scott Hanberg (12)/Will Riblet (12)
#2D - Ryan Duckworth/Ethan Lapp - 4-6, 5-7 - Adam DeShone (11)/Christian Lankford (11)

Junior Varisty
#1SJV - Jacob Gonsalves - 8-4 - Matt Stutzman (11)
#2SJV - Jackson King - 2-8 - Ben Weaver (12)
#3SJV - Joel Yoder - 1-8 - Riley Norris (11)
#4SJV - Jacob Gonsalves - 6-2 - Josh Santos (11)
#5SJV - Jackson King - 6-4 - Keith Hartzler (10)
#6SJV - Joel Yoder - 2-6 - Michael Wyse (9)
#1DJV - Lane Miller/Brandon Nguyen - 8-4 - Alex Boyer (11)/Ben Oakley (11)
#2DJV - Dustin Miller/Lucas Brownsberger-Keyes - 3-8 - Langston Johnson (11)/Gabe Lindholm (11)
#3DJV - Daniel Robles/Jonathan Yousey - 8-3
#4DJV - Lane Miller/Brandon Nguyen - 3-6 - Jacob Stout (10)/Adam Moom (9)
#5DJV - Dustin Miller/Lucas Brownsberger-Keyes - 6-0 - Jared Reid (9)/Bryce Daub (9)
#6DJV - Daniel Robles/Jonathan Yousey - 6-3 - Manny Sanchez (11)/???

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