Monday, September 19, 2016

Big Words from Portage


"You make beautiful things out of the dust."
from Beautiful Things by Gungor

This day did not start out at all promising. When I woke up, the rain was thundering down and the radar had a big green blob on it. Portage's coach texted me at 5:45 asking what I thought, and I said: "We'll make the best of it, if there's a chance, let's give it a try." An hour later, I got a text that we were delaying the start time.

So we made the best of that, and bussed the team over to Goshen Family Restaurant, better known as Joanna's. After convincing Lane that biscuits and gravy probably weren't the food that would best make him light on his feet, we drank coffee and ate pancakes and waited out our delay. God had taken one disappointing thing and made it beautiful through our togetherness.

Off we went, traveling U.S. 6 to Portage. For the first half of the trip, rain continued to sheet down on us. But as we stopped at S.R. 31 for a bathroom break, the rain became sprinkles, then stopped, and then the sun came out to light the gorgeous drive through valleys and forests, over streams and around bogs and golden farms. It was another disappointing thing redeemed into something beautiful.

When we arrived at Portage, the courts were still wet so we waited some more. This delay gave us the time to sit together, stretch out from the long ride and wake up. And then it was time for the matches to start. Again, we got some disappointing news. At one of our strongest positions, #1D, we were going to be playing the best team in the tournament in the first round - South Bend St. Joseph. I had hoped to avoid them until the finals at that position, meaning that even if we lost to them we'd get maximum points. In fact, at 3 of the 5 positions we were going to have to play them before the final. 

And St. Joe wasn't the only really good team at the tournament. They were ranked #15 in the state, but also in their respective District Rankings were Highland and Centerville. Highland had only lost 3 matches on the season, and I'm not sure Centerville has lost any. So there was good competition all over the tournament. Even the teams not in the rankings had solid players, as LaLumiere, Portage, Triton and Merrillville all had the players to compete. So the draw was a nervous time.

But again, the possibly disappointing turned into something beautiful. Simon and Brandon started slow but turned on their solid play late in the first set. Then they kept their level high in the second set and won in rather easy fashion 6-3, 6-1. A possible loss blossomed into a confidence booster. In fact, all across the lineup, the first round ended in wins for the Bruins. The closest match was a 6-3, 6-3 win for #2D. 

In the second round, everyone hit stiffer competition as we began to play the other players who advanced with wins in the first round. Byeong gave a solid match to St. Joe's #1 sophomore, Thomas Pries. Serving well and staying in the points, Byeong pushed the freshman his closest set in the past two weeks, but still lost in 2 tough sets. Lucas fell to another St. Joe player in his second round. Jonathon matched up against Highland, and their strong #2. Brandon and Simon continued their run of strong play and advanced to the final in #1D, but at #2D we hit big heartbreak.

Playing Highland, the Millers struggled with the different style of play, and weren't playing their best tennis anyway. As the match proceeded, the Bruins didn't really play a confident and decisive first set and lost it in a close one. In the second set though, #2D turned it around, attempting to redeem a difficult situation. In the super tiebreak that decided the match though, we went down 8-2. Then we found our game, point by point creeping back into the tiebreak. It was a bit too big of a hole to dig out of however, and we lost 8-10 in the tiebreak.

So, we sent #1D into the final and the rest of us were going to be playing for 3rd place. But the beautiful thing that emerged from that disappointment was the opportunity to rebound and to play better. When faced with difficulty, we can respond with hope and improvement. And we did. From top to bottom, we played our best tennis of the day in our final match.

That doesn't mean we all won. Byeong sailed through his 3rd place match without dropping a game. He looked impressive in doing it as well. But despite Jonathon's best hitting of the day, he couldn't get past LaLumiere's #2. And #2D definitely played their best match, again resetting after a first set loss to take a second set in style. Again in a super tiebreak, they played with much more confidence. Unfortunately, their opponents played a good tiebreak as well, and the Bruins fell again 8-10. 

But we were definitely playing the best tennis of the day. And that was a blessing. It always feels good to play your best, even when you lose you can smile and go on your way - or lay down and rest because you are so tired.

Watching #1D in the championship was fun. They didn't play their best, and the first set especially got closer than they probably would have liked, but they always stayed in control. That was an awesome thing to watch. And to see them come out in 1st place. Well, that's a blessing. A day that started with a tough draw ended with 1st place for them - and having to beat each of the ranked teams to do it! They had compliments from many of the coaches, about how they compliment one another so well, about their net play, about their returns, about their baseline play... it was all around good for these guys. 

And speaking of all-around, what an all-around weird day it was for Lucas Brownsberger-Keyes. Starting the day feeling sick, he started off the morning with a long wait and many trips to the bathroom. Then he got an easy win. Then he played his second against St. Joe and lost 0-6, 0-6. And then he came into his third match against Centerville after hours of waiting because the opponent had played a marathon match in the second round (actually losing 23-21 in the super tiebreak that is supposed to end at 10!)

So, Lucas was the very last player on the court in the whole tournament. As the match moved into its second set, we became aware that if Lucas won, we would finish the tournament in second place - ahead of Centerville and Highland, but behind St. Joe. So Lucas' match became even more interesting. But Lucas was already handling it well, stepping in and moving his opponent around. Soon after we found out about our possible finish, it was over. Another disappointment, Lucas' sickness and difficulty, had been made into something beautiful.

As we drove home, the moon was bright orange and centered low over the road. I tried to stop and take a picture, but I couldn't do it justice. We won all sorts of accolades at this tournament. 2nd as a team. 1st at #1D. Lots of compliments on how much the other coaches liked our team, the way we played and the way we treated our opponents. In fact, the team we beat for 2nd (Centerville) really bonded well with our guys and it was a treat to get to know them. 

But we have to give accolades to where they are do. Our God turned a lot around. Because our God is always good. It's God's favorite thing to do, part of God's loving nature, to give good gifts. And today, every time that it seemed like we were pressed into something difficult we were given a good gift. I love the day, I loved the time with the team, and I love our good God. So accolade, praise, to the team for its play and the way we represented Jesus. Yet, ultimately the most beautiful moments of the day were of God's design and grace.

First Round
#1S - Byeong Min Lim - 6-0, 6-2 - Mike Zhou, LaLumiere
#2S - Jonathon Yousey - 6-2, 6-0 - Jared Bules, Triton
#3S - Lucas Brownsberger-Keyes - 6-0, 6-3 - Mikey Sobczak, Portage
#1D - Simon Hurst/Brandon Nguyen - 6-3, 6-1 - Cole Matthews/Brett Loitz, SB St. Joseph
#2D - Lane Miller/Dustin Miller - 6-3, 6-3 - ???/???, Merrillville

Second Round
#1S - Byeong Min Lim - 4-6, 1-6 - Thomas Pries, SB St. Joseph
#2S - Jonathon Yousey - 1-6, 2-6 - Meet Patel, Highland
#3S - Lucas Brownsberger-Keyes - 0-6, 0-6 - Ram Fernandez, SB St. Joseph
#1D - Simon Hurst/Brandon Nguyen - 6-2, 6-1 - Blake Shook/Josh Duke, Centerville
#2D - Lane Miller/Dustin Miller - 4-6, 6-2, (8-10) - Harrison Bronisz/Fred Kepler, Highland

Third Round
#1S - Byeong Min Lim - 6-0, 6-0 - Zack Gertzen, Portage
#2S - Jonathon Yousey - 1-6, 4-6 - ????, LaLumiere
#3S - Lucas Brownsberger-Keyes - 6-1, 6-1 - Nate Reed, Centerville
#1D - Simon Hurst/Brandon Nguyen - 6-4, 6-3 - Mason Gluth/Alex Lopez, Highland
#2D - Lane Miller/Dustin Miller - 5-7, 6-2, (8-10) - Nathan Cheek/Bennet Walther, Centerville

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