By Mike Deak
NAPPANEE – Opening up the new tennis facility at NorthWood in 2018 was supposed to be a shot in the arm for Panther tennis. After watching the girls perform at a high level last spring, the boys team took center stage this past fall and outdid themselves, and nearly everyone else.
The boys tennis team put together its finest campaign in program history, and arguably, the best season any Northern Lakes Conference team has ever had.
NorthWood’s team went 17-2 overall, the lone losses came to Westview in the regular season and later in the championship of the Concord Regional. It was the tour along the way that was purely magical for a Panther team that was desperate to end some streaks.
NorthWood cleared a big hurdle in a regular season win over Culver Academy, one of the area’s premier programs. The team then might have outdid itself in rallying part Bremen in a quality road win.
“I think this team really started to believe in themselves more and have confidence in each other after we were able to win the Culver Academies match,” said NorthWood head coach Tif Schwartz. “From that point on, they played with more purpose. As much as tennis is an individual game, it also becomes a team sport by how the individual matches play out. This group started to cheer each other on during the matches and keep each court fired up in between their own points.”
The Northern Lakes Conference had been a bugaboo for the Panthers, but 2019 just came together. Opening the season with a sweep of perennial power Concord, 5-0, a trend was about to form. NorthWood would carry on through the seven-team round-robin in the same manner and post 5-0 wins to end the slate perfect at 7-0. The feat had NorthWood cap a 35-0 court triumph over the conference, which league officials believe is the only time that’s happened in NLC boys tennis history.
“I remember after the Northridge match, I started hearing the phrase ‘run the table’,” Schwartz said. “I told them, we just want to go into every match being confident and if we can play with confidence and be smart, good things can happen. Then the last match of the conference was with Wawasee and we had a huge crowd that night. There was a lot at stake. It was Senior Night, which always brings emotions, and they were putting the pressure on themselves to win 5-0. Being able to accomplish something that special as a team is truly remarkable.”
NorthWood would back up the season feat with a team title at the NLC Championships, the first title in program history. That would jumpstart the team into the IHSAA state tournament, where NorthWood was trying to sew up a sectional title for the first time in over a decade. The Panthers would string together 5-0 wins over Goshen and Jimtown at its place to secure its first sectional championship since going back-to-back in 2006 and 2007.
NorthWood would get a win over DeKalb, 4-1, in the regional semi-finals before Westview pulled the curtain on NorthWood’s season, 3-2, a day later in the regional final.
At No. 2 singles, Ben Vincent had another whale of a season, going 25-0 to give him 45 wins in the past two seasons. Vincent ran through his opponent sheet not only unblemished, but did so in straight sets in all 25 matches.
Wes Troyer at No. 1 won 19 matches and was named a North-South All-Star and the No. 1 doubles team of Jack Wysong and Landon Holland won 27 matches en route to the state quarterfinals, winning NLC, sectional and regional championships along the way.
“This team was very special,” offered Schwartz. “The guys were out on the courts regularly during the summer and pushing each other to be the best that they could be. From the beginning of the season, this group was willing to help each other with a specific area of their game any time someone asked.”