PLYMOUTH — Last year when Plymouth’s young tennis lineup stepped on the court for their season opener at Kokomo, the Pilgrims showed their inexperience.
It took them awhile to come into their own, but with four players back from that Northern Lakes Conference championship squad, this year’s team showed no such jitters at Monday’s opener at home, and Joe Knapp and Matt Flynn earned a big, three-set victory at 2 doubles to put Plymouth over the top for a 3-2 season-opening win over the Wildkats at Centennial Park.
“Last year we were really inexperienced, and I remember going down there (to Kokomo) the same day, first day of the season, and just looking kind of overwhelmed by the situation,” said Plymouth head boys tennis coach Michael Delp. “We talked about that, about how everybody’s nervous; that’s normal. You go out there and you get through that and you start concentrating on tennis shots, executing things that we want to do. I felt like from the get-go… we did a pretty good job.”
“It took us awhile to kind of figure out how good we could be and eventually that turned into an NLC championship,” he continued. “We’ve got three holes to fill from last year and we’re still doing that, but this is only the second time we’ve ever beaten Kokomo out of five maybe. It’s a solid team that usually ends up with a really good record at the end of the year and usually wins their sectional.”
It was a pair of newcomers who came through big for the Pilgrims Monday, as Knapp and Flynn battled back from a disappointing 7-5 loss in the second set to trump Kokomo’s Patrick Cole and Cody Shipley 6-3 in the deciding third set and give their team the victory.
“Joe and Matt have had a good preseason here and Kokomo has a strong 2 doubles team — they’re kind of like us, equally good at 1 and 2 doubles pretty much,” Delp said. “That was a fun match to watch, a competitive match, and Joe and Matt did an excellent job, I thought, of executing the game plan down the stretch there. Sometimes as a coach you’ve got five matches going on and it’s kind of hard to game plan, but close to the end you could kind of tell their match was going to make a difference and we kind of talked about ‘Hey, you need to put the ball here for this guy or here for that guy.’ They just did a nice job of kind of executing that, and it made a big difference.”
Plymouth also earned another split-set victory at 2 singles, where returner Lane Singleton lost a second-set tiebreaker to Andrew Schem before putting him away in short order with a 6-0 third-set win.
“I think Lane’s experience kind of won out there,” said Delp. “The kid just kind of got in a rhythm in his forehand (in the second set). Lane’s got some experience, but he’s still only played for the last two and a half years and sometimes you just leave the ball in the middle of the court and the guy’s got a good offensive shot and gets dialed in. I didn’t even really go down and talk to him; it was just me kind of trusting Lane to figure that out, and he did. He did a great job.”
Another returner, junior Gabe Vervynckt, made short work of his opponent in his debut at 1 singles, handing Craig Simon a 6-2, 6-3 defeat for Plymouth’s first win of the night.
“He’s worked hard. He went to the weight room this summer. He’s done what he needed to do and played a few tournaments this summer,” said Delp of Vervynckt. “He’s going to be a big key, he and Lane both. They played in some tournaments for us and put in as much time as anybody so they will be key spots for us.”
Vervynckt and Singleton both return as defending individual NLC champs, as do Connor Flynn and Jordan Scheetz, who lost their 1 doubles battle 6-3, 6-4 Monday, while Luke Bumpus makes a big step up to 3 singles, and Knapp and Flynn fill in at 2 doubles as the three newcomers to the lineup. With so much experience back from last year’s successful campaign, the Pilgrims are looking forward to a strong showing in 2011.
“We returned some guys that had some success at the end of the last year, and I was hoping we wouldn’t have to go through some of those growing pains,” said Delp. “There are some young guys that haven’t experienced all that, but we tried to bring them along with us last year to kind of see it and soak it up.
“I’m excited about the guys we’ve got coming back, and we’re going to enjoy some good competition.”
Plymouth returns to action at home tonight as it hosts Knox in a 5 p.m. match.
• PLYMOUTH 3, KOKOMO 2
Singles: 1. Gabe Vervynckt (P) beat Craig Simon 6-2, 6-3; 2. Lane Singleton (P) beat Andrew Schlem 6-2, 6-7 (7-3), 6-0; 3. Drew Sale (K) beat Luke Bumpus 6-0, 6-2
Doubles: 1. Luke Alexander-Drew Sawyer (K) beat Connor Flynn-Jordan Scheetz 6-3, 6-4; 2. Joe Knapp-Matt Flynn (P) beat Patrick Cole-Cody Shipley 6-4, 5-7, 6-3.
Record: Plymouth 1-0.
JV score: Plymouth 4, Kokomo 3.