WARSAW — Although Whitko’s boys tennis team already had two match points in hand before Wednesday’s Warsaw Sectional-opener with Tippecanoe Valley even began, the Wildcats knew not to overlook the Vikings. After all, it was only a little more than a week ago that Valley won on all three singles courts to grab a 3-2 victory over its Three Rivers Conference rival.
Wildcats coach Derek Hinen switched his lineup around for Wednesday’s second meeting, and his players delivered a 4-1 win over Valley to advance to Thursday’s semifinals opposite Columbia City.
“We have three good singles players. We struggled with some matches this year so we knew we were still going to have to play well to get a couple,” said Hinen. “I thought our 2 and 3 singles played really well tonight. Did a good job getting to the net and finishing off points.
“Whenever you win, it’s always a good start. It doesn’t matter how you advance.”
Whitko got two points on the 2 and 3 singles courts, while Valley was forced to forfeit both doubles matches. Aiden Hoffman downed Connor Frentzel 6-0, 6-2, at the No. 2 spot, and Bryce Tucker put away Ethan Yates, 6-0, 6-3 at the third singles position to secure the Wildcats a spot in the semis.
“Our 3 singles actually lost to their 3 singles before, and we moved him up to 2, and he’s been improving throughout the year so he was able to win tonight. That was great improvement for him,” explained Hinen of his coaching moves. “We played a new kid at 3 singles that played doubles before. He was able to get to the net really well and played consistent tonight. Some new blood at new positions so it worked out for us.”
“They played well. We played them last week, and they played a lot better tonight,” said Valley coach Nick Kindig. “Credit to them; their guys were ready to play.”
While the short-handed Vikings have been forced to forfeit the doubles positions throughout the year, head coach Nick Kindig thought the pressure of starting from behind might have played a bigger role in Wednesday’s higher stakes atmosphere.
“I talked to the guys before — ‘I’m not trying to put pressure on you, but you guys know.’ They’ve dealt with that all year so it’s not any different experience for them, but I think just being sectional they had a little bit more nerves coming in. It is what it is,” he said.
The good news for Valley came at 1 singles, where Payton Mills backed up an earlier win over Devon Akers with a 6-2, 6-0 win for the Vikings’ only point Wednesday. The sophomore thus stays alive in the state singles tournament and will wait to find out his opponent at the Culver Military Academy Sectional — played in conjunction with the CMA team regional — next Tuesday and Wednesday.
“I’m proud of Payton for winning again,” said Kindig.
“He gets to move on to Culver Academies so we’re looking forward to that. That’ll be fun. It’s good experience for him, especially only being a sophomore.”
Whitko moves on to play a solid Columbia City lineup in Thursday’s semis, while Wawasee and host Warsaw battle it out on the other courts. The winners advance to the championship round Saturday at 9 a.m.
“They’re a really solid team. They’re really balanced,” said Hinen of City. “They don’t have a super great player, and they don’t have anybody that’s really bad. They’re all really consistent throughout their whole lineup. We’re just going to have to play really consistent and play our best to have a chance tomorrow.”
Valley’s 2 and 3 singles close out a year in which the Vikings struggled to find team wins with such a short-handed lineup. Kindig applauded his team’s growth and grit at the close of its season.
“Ethan, our 3 singles, hadn’t touched a racket until this year. He improved a lot. Connor, he plays his butt off every day,” Kindig said. “I tell them all the time ‘You guys might not realize how much you’ve improved, but we see you every day. We see where you started and where you finished.’ They improved a lot, and I’m proud of them. It takes a lot of courage to be part of a team that only has three guys and come out every day and still work hard. You’ve got to give a lot of credit to them.”
Triton closed out its team season with a 4-1 loss to host Bremen at Sectional 49 Wednesday.
The Trojans 1 doubles team of Carter Kuntz and Chase Butler did collect a three-set win over Brett Yelaska and Cale Brown, 5-7, 6-4, 6-2 to stay alive in the doubles state tournament, to convene at the Culver Academies next Tuesday and Wednesday.
John Gardner fell 6-2, 6-1 to Mark Bahr at 1 singles, Jared Bules lost 6-1, 6-0 to Carson Miller at 2 singles, and Connor Large lost a competitive 6-3, 6-3 match with Dawson Hickman at 3 singles. Tyler Heckaman and Grant Eib fell 6-3, 6-0 to Shay Kyser and Trevor Devine on the 2 doubles court.
Bremen advances to play John Glenn in the semifinals Thursday, while defending champion Plymouth plays LaVille in the other bracket. The championship is slated for Friday.
Goshen opened the NorthWood Sectional with a 5-0 sweep of Bethany Christian Wednesday. They’ll play the host Panthers at Thursday’s semifinal, while Fairfield plays Jimtown. Championship is slated for Friday.