PLYMOUTH — It’s sometimes easier to maintain a tradition than to restore one.
Expectations play a big role in sports, and in tennis in particular, confidence can often win the day.
Plymouth seniors Connor Flynn and Jordan Scheetz were in eighth grade the last time the Pilgrims sent a doubles team to the state finals. On Saturday, the duo beat DeKalb’s Landon Miller and Brandon Fruits 6-4, 2-6, 6-3 to win the LaPorte Regional and advance to Friday’s Doubles State Championship.
“At the time I was going pretty crazy,” said Flynn of Saturday’s regional championship. “I’d never been that excited and nervous at the same time in my life. As soon as we did it, it was a huge relief. Especially with tennis not being our main sport, it’s crazy that we’ve made it this far. Now thinking back on it, it’s still hard to believe that we’re actually doing it and we’re still going, but we’re practicing hard and we’re going to try to make a run at the finals.”
“Plymouth’s No. 1 doubles is known greatly for moving on through the individual tournament,” said Scheetz. “We’re in a great state to be up on the Wall of Fame in the athletic hallway. That was our first goal is we wanted to get there, and we knew we were coming together and we were playing well. Really, we just went into Saturday with the mindset that we’re not thinking anything but wins here so we just went for it and focused hard and played our best.”
While the Pilgrims are known historically for deep runs in the doubles tournament, it’s been awhile since anyone in the program has gone as far as Flynn and Scheetz.
Plymouth sent a doubles team in Matt Hunter and Matt Langfeldt to the final four in 2001 in the second year of the IHSAA’s non-team doubles tourney and afterward enjoyed frequent appearances at the finals for several years, including sending six tandems to state in an eight-year span from 1998 to 2005, the last time the Pilgrims reached the finals.
Plymouth bowed out of the team tournament with a Culver Military Academy Regional championship loss to the host Eagles on Oct. 5, but Flynn and Scheetz stayed alive in the individual tourney with a straight-set win over CMA’s Quinlan Smith and Jorge Segura. They advanced to Saturday’s LaPorte Regional with another straight-set win over Warsaw’s A.J. Herendeen and Sam Rice at CMA Oct. 6, then beat Wheeler’s Jordon Long and Lucas Jessen in Saturday’s semifinal before battling back from a 4-1 deficit in the opening set to put away Miller and Fruits in three sets for the regional championship, breaking a five-year dry spell in state berths for Pilgrims doubles teams.
“It really has been a few years,” said Plymouth Head Tennis Coach Michael Delp, who finished runner-up for Plymouth with partner Scott Hunt as a senior in the 1993 doubles tourney. “When we had a string of so many guys in a row it really was helpful for some of our younger guys to go down and watch that big tournament, maybe dream a little bit that hey, that could be me someday, and when they finally make that 1 doubles team to kind of have that expectation that this is what we kind of do. For Connor and Jordan to do that on their own, I think there was an element of surprise for them this weekend, but they played really well and just restoring that tradition was something I wanted to see for our guys, especially our younger guys. But they had to be the first, at least the first in awhile, so for that I’m really proud of them. It’s sometimes easier to kind of follow the guys before you.”
Part of the surprise for Scheetz and Flynn is that neither is primarily a tennis player. Respectively a pitcher and an infielder for both Plymouth High School and American Legion Post 27, the duo was busy playing baseball last summer while many of their opponents were focusing on tennis.
“With (American) Legion, playing baseball together all summer, we didn’t play tennis. I played tennis one time this summer, and that was the day before two-a-days,” said Scheetz. “We really didn’t play tennis together this summer, but baseball kept us close.”
“Me and Jordan have been in school together since the fifth grade at St. Mike’s,” said Flynn. “Baseball and basketball have brought us closer together, but baseball, definitely in this previous summer playing together on Post 27 brought us a lot closer. I’m glad he decided to come out this year because I knew it was up in the air, but as soon as he did I knew something special could happen this year.”
While Scheetz and Flynn may have been a bit surprised at their tennis run given their pedigree as multi-sport athletes, Delp said they’re well within Plymouth’s doubles tradition in that respect as well.
“We’ve been kind of blessed since the start of the tournament with having strong doubles teams throughout there,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of guys that are strong athletes. Maybe tennis might be their first sport, but a lot of them, it’s their second or third sport, and they just kind of love the action that you get in doubles — the aggressiveness, the quick reflexes — and it just allows them to be successful on a tennis court… Some of that’s just suited the athletes that we’ve had, but we definitely have a strong tradition, both girls and guys, of teams that have made the state finals.”
While the state series may have started with sectionals Sept. 28, Scheetz’s and Flynn’s run really began a week before at the start of the Northern Lakes Conference Tournament.
Two days prior, the duo took a heartbreaking loss to visiting Northridge on Senior Night at Plymouth. After that loss, they regrouped to go undefeated at NLCs for the conference doubles championship and have continued gaining momentum with eight straight wins in the IHSAA tournament.
“Their last loss was the Monday before NLCs. It was Senior Night and a really heartbreaking loss,” said Delp. “Since that time they’ve really kind of come into their own. Maybe that loss kind of got their attention and we just kind of got back to some basics. For them, they had the ability — it was more realizing what it takes to be successful. They always had the aggressiveness; it was more about being consistent. Keeping the ball in play on returns and first serves in play instead of giving up easy points where they were going for a little much or not moving their feet well. So I kind of convinced them of that, but a lot of it has just come with confidence since that weekend. They step on the court, and they believe they’re the best team. As long as you have that confidence and that belief, you have a chance to win every match. That’s what I love. Right now, it’s pretty easy to get nervous in some of these matches where you lose and your season’s over. These guys just kind of step on the court and played the tennis in front of them and had confidence, you could just tell.”
“Northridge, it was an experience that I wouldn’t want to have, but now that I’ve had it I’m glad I did because it reiterated that sense that losing is not fun at all and winning is so much better,” said Flynn. “That you just have to do whatever it takes to win. The NLC tournament that weekend really got some momentum for us. We started getting our returns in, and we really started clicking. That was the turning point in our season I guess you could say, and we haven’t lost a match since that Northridge match and hopefully we don’t lose any this upcoming weekend.”
Whatever happens at Friday’s state finals, Flynn and Scheetz have already come a long way for Plymouth. They’ve helped bring back a tradition five years dormant, and both the players and their coach are hoping it can help raise expectations for younger Pilgrims tennis players.
“It’s pretty much a program-boost for the upcoming 1 doubles and the whole team really, I think,” said Scheetz. “Us getting there was a good example of what hard work, determination and all those things can do for you as you play tennis. Not only tennis, but sports and pretty much life. It sets a good example for the people under us.”
“The team next year, it’s going to be different with all the spots that are opening up, but looking down in practice at what the team has to offer, they can definitely make a run,” said Flynn. “It may seem like a down year but it’s definitely not. Like Coach says ‘With adversity comes opportunity,’ and you know what Plymouth tennis is; it’s about winning. We’re just glad that we could restore that a little bit and get the underclassmen hungry about victory.”