Namely a regular-season Northern Lakes Conference championship was there for the taking as the pair squared off at Concord.
The importance of the match pitting a pair of league unbeatens in the final NLC match of the season was evident in the effort, emotion and exuberance on both sides of the net too.
The Tigers, in the end, shook off a slow start for a fabulous finish in fashioning a hard-fought 3-2 victory over the host Minutemen to lay claim to the NLC title.
Warsaw now has a leg up on the Minutemen and the rest of the league going into the NLC Tournament, set for Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday back at Concord.
“To go undefeated in the NLC is huge,” said Warsaw coach Rick Orban. “I’m proud of our guys for doing it. It’s a lot harder to do that than to win the conference tourney because you have to be on seven different nights. I think it’s been four or five years since our boys team won the NLC.”
Orban, whose team is now 9-2 overall and a perfect 7-0 in the NLC, felt good despite seeing his team struggle at the start. The Tigers dropped the first set on three of the five courts before regrouping to claim the match and the league title in the process.
“I honestly thought we were going to win,” said Orban when asked about his feelings early in the match. “We had an awful practice on Friday. It was the worst of the season. We got nothing accomplished. So I knew we were going to come out flat tonight.
“The thing is that if we play our best tennis and they play their best tennis, I think we win 5-0 or maybe 4-1. So I still felt good about the outcome despite how we began the match.”
Warsaw clinched the championship when Evan Miller completed a 7-5, 7-6 (7-2) win at No. 2 singles. Miller outlasted Matt Kotva in a 2:30 match that got testy at times and had Warsaw assistant coach Jan Orban, a licensed USTA official, serving as a line judge at the request of Kotva by the end. When a final shot by Kotva sailed long, an emotion-charged Miller sprinted to the net for the ritual hand shake. Miller, a few minutes later, gave head coach Rick Orban a big hug before jumping into a team photo.
The Tigers also got an impressive win by Alek Jansen at No. 3 singles and a strong rally for a victory by its No. 2 doubles team of Will Petro and Connor Singrey. Jansen beat Jack Hinkle 6-1, 6-4 and Petro and Singrey topped Tony Fenech and Jared Searer 4-6, 6-2, 6-2.
“AJ really took it to his opponent tonight and I knew that our No. 2 doubles team would come back since they are undefeated,” Orban said. “Will and Connor played an awful first set and Evan was very erratic in his first set. But, it says a lot about their character with how all of them came back.”
Miller trailed 5-4 in his second set before storming back to win and clinch the match and the NLC championship for his team.
Orban had an opinion on the tone of the match at No. 2 singles that turned somewhat contentious early on and had Kotva asking his coach Todd Denton for a line judge on several occasions before it ended up with Jan Orban on the court serving as a line judge to solve any more disputes. With Orban stationed at the net, the final set went much more smoothly than the first between the pair of highly-charged and highly-competitive players.
“I just think emotions are high and I give the kids the benefit of the doubt,” said Orban. “I don’t think any kid on any team intentionally tries to cheat on calls. But, I was not going to let one of their parents be a line judge either when Jan is a USTA licensed official.”
Concord took a 1-0 lead as Nick Pollock beat Kyle Wettschurack 6-4, 6-3 at No. 1 singles. The Tigers evened it as Jansen won easily at No. 3 singles. Petro and Singrey then won to make it 2-1 before T. Cunningham and Trevor Warren beat AJ Herendeen and Sam Rice 7-5, 3-6, 7-6 (7-2) at No. 1 doubles to tie it at 2-2 to set the stage for Miller’s clinching point.
The Minutemen, who drop to 9-6 overall and finish 6-1 in league play, put up quite the fight. Concord won both the NLC regular-season and tourney titles in 2011, but lost nine lettermen from that team (that finished 13-4 overall), including their top singles player and top doubles team.
“This is what the NLC is all about, two quality teams going down to the wire to decide the championship,” said Concord coach Todd Denton. “I knew it would come down to the last match and that both teams were going to fight for it. My guys played well. Warsaw is a quality team.
“My No. 1 singles and No. 1 doubles have been pretty much automatic for us this year and I felt very comfortable with them. Matt has been clutch at No. 2 for us. But, Evan did what he needed to do to win. He’s a great player and a classy kid. I have no gripes with Warsaw.”
Warsaw won the JV match by a 7-0 final. Winning for the Tigers in singles play were Nick Hamrick, Caleb Ray and Drew Schramm and the doubles teams of Nic Jansen and Christopher Herendeen, Caleb Snyder and Andrew Cox, Nikos Schlitt and Caleb DeBoest and Wesley Shuler and Drew McCollom.
The NLC Tournament starts Wednesday at Concord and then continues Thursday and concludes on Saturday. Starting times are scheduled for 4:30 p.m. the first two days and 9 a.m. on Saturday.