By Mike Deak
SYRACUSE – In the case of Monday’s tennis season opener, Wawasee’s flair was greater than Valley’s optimism in a 5-0 boys tennis final at the Warrior tennis courts.
Wawasee, which returns six starters from last year’s roster, had its way with Valley’s young roster for the most part. All five of the courts were straight sets, both Zeke Keim at No. 3 singles in a 6-0, 6-1 run of Wyatt Reiter and Joe Harper – the lone newbie for Wawasee as an incoming freshman – swept Valley newcomer Cam Manuel one and one at No. 2 singles.
“Joey has been playing all summer and he made some really nice shots today,” said Wawasee head coach Vince Rhodes. “Really all we need to do with him is teach him some strategy. He’s got all the tools and can make all kinds of great shots. I think if we can get Joey up there with Holden (Babb) at the top, having two guns up front will make us hard to beat.”
The No. 2 doubles pair of Devon Kuhn and Ty Brooks worked over Tristyn Ragon and Deondre Hamilton in a shutout, the Valley duo picking up varsity racquets for the first time just two weeks ago. Grant Brooks and Blaine Baut took a little time to get going at No. 1 doubles, but eventually ratcheted up to beat Annikan Pettit and Cooper Walls two and love.
“We knew coming into the match today that they had six guys coming back and it was going to take our best effort to keep up with them,” said Tippecanoe Valley head coach Nick Kindig. “It’s good to see where we are at right now, and then what we need to do the next time we see them if we play them in sectionals.”
The last off the court was one singles, where Babb and Valley’s Dylan Neese waged a competitive battle. Babb’s big serves and work on the baselines countered Neese enough to hold on to win 6-4, 7-5. Babb had to rally from down 5-4 in the second set, but used some clever returns to get the job done.
“I think Holden’s mental aspect to his game is a lot better already this year than where he ended at last year,” Rhodes said. “His serve is much better and he had it working at times tonight. Sometimes we have to get him to dial it down because he’s had an injured shoulder, but he had a few nice drop shots that scored points. I told him, hey, that’s using your head. He didn’t have to hit it hard to get points on the board.”
For Kindig, he was impressed in the fight in Neese, who handled Babb’s big serves and showed some grit.
“Dylan is a competitor and has played a lot in the offseason, and you can tell he has improved a lot from last year,” stated Kindig. “He knew he was going to have to play well to beat (Babb), he was right there and I give him credit. He was down 4-1 in the second set and came back to take the lead. I liked the way he fought in his match.”