By Mike Deak
COLUMBIA CITY – No matter what Tippecanoe Valley’s tennis contingent tried Wednesday afternoon, nothing seemed to work. Columbia City had the answer for just about all of it, beating the Vikings 5-0 in the opening round of the Warsaw Boys Tennis Sectional.
Blessed with the opportunity to play on its sparkling courts as Warsaw’s new facility is still under construction, the Eagles enjoyed its home court feel in overmatching the Vikings.
Quick leads on both the one and two singles courts seemed to set the tone over the expanse of the five in action. Seemingly every angle Dylan Neese tried to use against Alex Rongos was countered with an even better return, or a bigger serve, or a slicker drop shot. Same with Cam Manuel in his dual with Tobey Krider, Krider making better use of Manuel’s second serves to crush home winners.
While the west side of the complex was rolling Eagles singles points, the far eastern corner was also quickly going City’s way. Jaxon Crawford and Rhet Wilson would be the first off the court, steaming to a 6-1, 6-2 win over Brady Minix and Tristyn Ragon.
Krider would make it 2-0 moments later, putting away Manuel 6-1, 6-1.
Right next door, Noah Finefrock would whistle home an ace to close out a 6-3, 6-0 win over Wyatt Reiter, making the team advancement for the Eagles academic.
“We already played City early in the year and we knew they were a good team,” said Tippecanoe Valley head coach Nick Kindig. The Eagles won the regular season matchup, 4-1, on Aug. 26. “It just kind of felt like we were a step slow tonight, but that’s how it felt all year. We were right there with the hustle, we know what we need to do, we were just a step slow. Without any seniors, we know we will get better. Just wasn’t there today.”
Rongos would soon close out Neese in a 6-3, 6-4 final that at times looked as though Neese were ahead, or at times like Rongos was pitching a shutout.
Not mentioned before, the one doubles court had the look of the dreaded court that would play well into the night. With all the other court scorecards clear of their posts, one doubles kept on inching forward. City won the first set 6-4, and held a 5-3 lead in the second set. But between Annikan Pettit’s wily net play and Cooper Walls’ cross court winners, Valley snuck back into it at 5-4, then 5-5, but then Ben Kuhmichel and Peyton Pope took the next point and a 6-5 lead for the Eagles.
City held match point four times before finally putting Valley away 7-5 to finish the point and the opening contest of the sectional.
“So many points, I’m just ‘you only need one to finish this’, and they just couldn’t find it,” Kindig said of his one doubles. “That goes back to having three days last week where we couldn’t do anything because of the weather, then having conference matches on Friday and Monday. They beat the Columbia City team earlier in the year in three sets, so they knew it was possible, but they, again, looked a step slow at times and just couldn’t get them tonight.”
The win finishes Valley’s season at 8-13 overall, and advances City to the semi-finals on Thursday, where it will meet Whitley County rival Whitko. On the other circuit of courts on Thursday will be Warsaw versus Wawasee in the other semi-final. The two Thursday winners will come back Saturday morning for the championship match, one Warsaw has won the past nine years.