CULVER — Plymouth senior No. 1 Gabe Vervycnkt has found a little extra motivation in this year’s state singles tournament.
While host Culver Military bowed out of team state tournament play with a 4-1 loss to Valparaiso at the Eagles’ home semistate Saturday, Vervynckt handed North Judson exchange student Thomas Simon his only loss of the year 7-5, 7-5 to become the first regional qualifier for the Pilgrims in recent memory in the IHSAA’s 33rd annual singles tournament at the Gable Tennis Complex in Culver.
Vervynckt moves on to the LaPorte Regional next week to take on the individual winner at the Munster Sectional in a semifinal scheduled for 10 a.m.
“It definitely feels great. I’m just trying to stay out of basketball conditioning a little bit longer,” said Vervynckt with a wry smile. “I want to keep it going and have a good senior year and try to get down to state.”
After jumping up 5-2 in his first set against Simon, a Belgian foreign exchange student at Judson, Vervynckt gave away the next three games to even the match up at 5-all. He quickly fell behind 15-luv in the next game but held serve to hand Simon a 7-5 defeat in the first set. He played from a game behind throughout the second set but rallied from a 4-5 deficit to put Simon away in another 7-5 decision for the straight-set victory and the right to move on to LaPorte next weekend.
“Beating an undefeated unknown, he hadn’t probably played quite the competition Gabe had played this year, but he’s definitely a great player, you could tell that,” said Plymouth boys tennis coach Michael Delp. “For Gabe to endure that and some adversity in the first set. He’s up 5-2 and then he gets to 5-all — he really didn’t play that well in those three games — and then he double faults the first two points at 5-all, and I just though, ‘Geez, he’s letting it slip.’ Man, you can’t count Gabe out in those kinds of situations, which is why you love him. He’s just such a mentally tough kid.”
Advancing with Plymouth to the team regional gave Vervynckt the opportunity to scout Simon, who advanced individually through the CMA Sectional and beat Columbia City’s Derek Hinen in three sets last Thursday to reach the CMA Singles Sectional championship opposite Vervynckt.
“I watched him on Thursday when he played the Columbia City kid,” said Vervynckt. “He won the first set 6-0, then lost the second set 5-7, which kind of showed some stuff that we could use today, then came back and won 6-1. So I was definitely a little worried about it, but I came out and got it done.”
While 2011 grads Jordan Scheetz and Connor Flynn qualified for the LaPorte Regional in last year’s state tournament, Vervynckt’s singles qualification Saturday was the first in recent memory for Plymouth, at least the first in Delp’s 15 years at the helm, and the Pilgrims skipper is hoping it’s a boost for the program.
“It’s really big for some of our younger guys to see some of that today,” Delp said. “And they got to see it with Connor (Flynn) and Jordan (Scheetz) last year. The other thing that’s big is just being down here at semistate and just seeing some of the tennis played, and hopefully they look at that and say, you know, we’re not that far away.”
Meanwhile in team play Saturday, the host Eagles bowed out of state contention via a 4-1 reprisal by Valpo in a complete reversal of CMA’s 4-1 win over the Vikings in regular season play early in the year.
“With all due credit, cliches aside to Valparaiso, at the key positions at 2 doubles and 2 singles and 3 singles, their kids played good tennis,” said CMA head coach Alan Loehr. “They just executed beautifully. At the key spots they needed, they just executed the points they needed to, and so they deserved to win.”
Loehr knew that his players would be challenged at 1 and 2 singles where Valpo earned a pair of straight set wins to go up 2-1 in match points, but the Vikings also grabbed a pair of first-set victories at 3 singles and 2 doubles to put pressure on the Eagles lineup on those courts.
Arturo Lizarraga and Jorge Segura won their second set with Pall Baggett and Domonkos Szabo 4-6 but ultimately succumbed to the Valpo 2 doubles tandem 6-4, 4-6, 6-2 as the Vikings clinched their third match point, the team win and a berth opposite Bloomington South in a State Finals quarterfinal this Friday.
Eric Maudhuit fought valiantly despite knowing his senior season would end regardless of the outcome, splitting sets with Eric Cender at 3 singles, but after falling behind 4-0 in the tiebreaker, Maudhuit couldn’t quite steal enough momentum to close out his high school career with a win, falling in an extended 9-7 tiebreaker.
“(Valpo) handled adversity well so I don’t want to take anything away from them,” said Loehr. “On our side, we needed to execute somethings — as an example we needed to be off faster at 3 singles, and that didn’t happen. On the other hand at least Eric fought through that and got to a third set so I’m proud of him for that. At 2 doubles we muscled our way through a second set; it wasn’t pretty, but I’m proud of the kids for that. In the third set we’re up 2-luv, 40-5 on serve in the third set and drop five games, so there’s the match right there. If they can close out and go to 3-luv, a totally different thing all of a sudden.”
While CMA closed out its team season, the Eagles’ No. 1 doubles tandem of twins Austin and Alec Proeh were 6-0, 6-4 winners over Jared Folke and Peter Williams to qualify for this week’s LaPorte Doubles Regional alongside Triton’s Pete Kauffman and Jeff Ross, who stayed alive in the doubles tournament with a win over Maconaquah’s Chris Ayers and Adam Harts last Tuesday.
“We’re alive in the doubles tournament, and I’m pleased for the 1 doubles team. Our 1 doubles team is a talented team, and we’re excited to see if they can make a deep run,” Loehr said.
The rest of CMA’s squad bows out of the tourney with an impressive 18-3 record and the team’s third straight regional championship.
Leaving the lineup are four seniors in No. 1 Quinlan Smith, No. 3 Maudhuit, and Lizarraga and Segura at 2 doubles.
“I’ve stayed 27 years at Culver because the kids and their families are truly nice people so it’s a privilege for me to be around them, to get to know them, and I can’t think of anything else I’d rather be doing,” said Loehr.
• VALPARAISO 4, CULVER MILITARY 1
At CMA Semistate
SINGLES: 1. Ben Kalisch (V) beat Quinlan Smith, 6-2, 6-3; 2. Martin Pochop (V) beat Sam Concannon, 6-2, 6-2; 3. Eric Cender (V) beat Eric Maudhuit, 7-5, 2-6, 7-6 (9-7).
DOUBLES: 1. Alec Proeh-Austin Proeh (CMA) beat Jared Folke-Peter Williams, 6-0, 6-4; 2. Pall Baggett-Domonkos Szabo (V) beat Arturo Lizarraga-Jorge Segura, 6-4, 4-6, 6-2.
Records: Valparaiso 17-2, CMA 18-3.
Gabe Vervynckt (Plymouth) beat Thomas Simon (North Judson), 7-5, 7-5.