PLYMOUTH — With tennis sectional play beginning tonight, Tuesday’s regular season-closer between Plymouth and Culver Military gave both squads a chance to hone their focus headed into the state tournament.
Plymouth looks for its 16th straight title as it faces John Glenn in a Bremen Sectional semifinal Thursday, while CMA begins the hunt for a ninth straight championship when it opens the tournament at home tonight against Knox.
The Eagles trumped the Pilgrims 4-1 in a Senior Night spoiler at Centennial Park, but the result of the match was less important than the level of play Tuesday. The meet also afforded the two sectional favorites a good look at one another’s lineups as they’ll likely meet again at the CMA Regional next Tuesday.
“I don’t think that our players — who on several courts were more talented in terms of tennis — understand how hard these kids from Plymouth are going to fight them. If they think they’re going to out-tough them, that’s not going to happen. When they understand that and can play a match where they’re using their skill sets and their strengths, then they generally prevail,” said CMA head coach Alan Loehr.
“I think it’s to our advantage seeing Plymouth with the new kids and understanding how hard they’ll fight. Maybe come next Tuesday if we can get to the regional we might go in a bit more prepared mentally for this sort of fight, which will only be intensified in a state tournament match.”
“This is a tradition of playing them on the week of sectional. We used to be in the same sectional and there were several years where you’d lose one in the regular season and turn around and beat them. They’ve got another good team. It definitely helps to see them and know what you’ve got,” said Plymouth tennis coach Michael Delp.
“Any time you can play this kind of competition and get yourself that state competition feel it’s a good thing. If we’re fortunate enough to get through our sectional and we see them, we’re not going to compete any different. Hopefully we can win a few more big points and get a few more sets and maybe put them in a little more of a pressure situation, because people do different things when they get under pressure.”
Plymouth’s lone win came from senior No. 1 Gabe Vervynckt as he put away Quinlan Smith 6-2, 6-4 to enter sectional play with some forward momentum following his Northern Lakes Conference championship over the weekend.
“Gabe is kind of peaking at the right time. He’s been a rock for us all year, and he will have to be in the tournament as well,” said Delp. “We’re going to need him to pull out some of those victories against the Tritons, the Bremens, the CMAs, the Warsaws, whoever we run into, Glenn.”
On a night set aside to honor Plymouth’s upperclassmen, two other Pilgrim seniors, Kendall Fosler and Jack Holloway, opened strong with a 6-3 first-set win over CMA twins Austin and Alec Proeh. The Proeh brothers tried to overpower the Plymouth duo early but changed tactics in the second set on their way to a 3-6, 6-1, 6-3 win in a back-and-forth three-set thriller.
“They’re trying to go right through two fabulous athletes and those kids are like ‘Bring it. Hit it hard at me; you’re going to get it right back. And then I don’t care where you’re going to hit it, I’m going to chase it.’ So you have to win points two, three, four times against these players, and if you’re not ready to do that you’re going to be on the short end of the stick,” said Loehr. “Right from the get-go in the second set they clearly flipped a switch on and started playing doubles instead of basically smash-mouth singles. When they start doing that, their skill sets get highlighted. They compliment each other well.”
“One doubles, man, they played well tonight; that was fun to watch,” Delp said. “Some high-level doubles games being played there, and we talked about that, when you play great opponents if you’re ready to battle it’ll pull out the best in you, too, and that’s exactly what happened tonight. They were a couple points away from making that even a tighter match, and it was good to see our seniors do that.”
Plymouth’s other varsity senior, Kameron Eisehour, was unfortunately sidelined Tuesday with a concussion sustained during NLC Tournament play over the weekend. The squad expects to have him back should the Pilgrims advance to the Bremen Sectional championship Friday as they are favored to do.
Max Holloway filled in for Eisehour at the CMA meet, pairing with Ryan Johnson at 2 doubles, where Jorge Segura and Arturo Lizarraga handed them a 6-1, 6-2 defeat for the Eagles’ first match point of the night. Eric Maudhuit beat John Hunter in two 6-2 sets for CMA’s second point at 3 singles, and freshman Sam Concannon trumped Plymouth’s Matt Flynn 6-2, 6-1 at 2 singles to seal the Eagles’ team win, moving to 15-1 on the year in the process.
“He is the kind of rock-solid player that a coach wants at every position because you put him on a court and never worry about him,” Loehr said of Concannon. “He’s solid mentally. You know that you’re not going to have to babysit him in any way during a match, and he’s very coachable. You wish you had seven of those guys out there.”
Plymouth gets a much-needed break tonight after drawing the bye at the Bremen Sectional as Bremen and Triton face off in what promises to be an exciting match-up between two of the Northern State Conference’s top tier teams at DeSantis Park tonight. The Pilgrims play Glenn Thursday while LaVille takes on the winner of Bremen-Triton with the championship set for Friday night.
“We’ve played a lot of matches in a row here so any night we can come out here and hit a little bit and not have that pressure on constantly — last week we had four out of the six days and then tonight. It’s a quick season, but it can be brutal depending on the schedule and how stuff falls. That’s the first time in, honestly I don’t know how long it’s been since we’ve had the bye. That’s nice. Having a night off will help,” said Delp.
“Playing Bremen and Triton early in the year, they’re both tough teams. I’m not looking past Glenn or anything — we know that any time a county school is playing another one it’s going to be a rival situation. We’ll be ready to go Thursday night,” added the Pilgrims skipper.
Culver Military opens the state tournament at home tonight against Knox while North Judson plays Rochester in the other semifinal at the four-team sectional with the championship slated for Thursday.
The Eagles enter the tournament ranked 14th and are hoping to make another deep run after winning their second straight regional title last year in the team’s first time hosting regional and semistate play at the Gable Tennis Complex.
“Any time you’re hosting the state tournament at your place you want to be an ungracious host and take home the trophy for yourself obviously. So that’s our hope and our goal is to maybe be in the conversation for the state finals,” said Loehr.
“I think our path through the state tournament is going to depend on how good our leadership is from our senior players. We have the talent to stay with many teams in the state, but will the boys look at each other and say ‘We’re going to do this for each other’, that’s going to be the difference.”
• CULVER MILITARY 4, PLYMOUTH 1
SINGLES: 1. Gabe Vervycnkt (P) beat Quinlan Smith 6-2, 6-4; 2. Sam Concannon (CMA) beat Matt Flynn 6-2, 6-1; 3. Eric Maudhuit (CMA) beat John Hunter 6-2, 6-2.
DOUBLES: 1. Austin Proeh-Alec Proeh (CMA) beat Kendall Fosler-Jack Holloway, 3-6, 6-1, 6-3; 2. Jorge Segura-Arturo Lizarraga (CMA) beat Ryan Johnson-Max Holloway 6-1, 6-2.