High school tennis can be kind of cruel. I spent a few minutes during the Newman-Sterling tennis dual Monday evening, chatting with Comets coach Ann Propheter about that very fact. Er...opinion.
Similar to the bowlers (how many times have I typed that phrase? Sheesh), tennis players from smaller schools get put firmly behind the 8 ball by the IHSA's one-class system.
Factor in the city schools not missing a beat, thanks to their indoor courts, and it would take a special small-school player to break through at the state meet. Oh, and the schools in the southern portion of the state are far more battle-tested, too.
Don't tell the local racqueteers that the deck is stacked. They've got enough to contend with in the immediate: each other.
Over the next 10 days, local singles players and doubles tandems with challenge each other, vying for the two singles and two doubles spots that will be entered in the sectional fray.
The Comets' current No. 2 pairing of seniors Luke LeMay and Ryan Schaab have been in the ear of No. 2 tandem of juniors J.P. Neisewander and Andrew Schmitt, and this afternoon, it's on like Donkey Kong.
"We've been telling them we want to play them," LeMay said. "It keeps you competitive all the time."
Those numerals have been very temporary for Propheter's gang.
"All three of the doubles teams are all so close that they really do push each other a lot," Propheter said. "It makes it hard for me, and each week it changes, depending on who beats who in the challenge matches. It sure does keep things competitive."
If Neisewander and Schmitt weren't so inundated with Sterling's No. 2 pairing of Jonathon Downing and Dustin Stoudt, they might've scouted today's opponent a little more.
"It's all in the task at hand," Schmitt said.
"In between points, you can look around, see where everyone's at and offer words of encouragement," Neisewander said. "But we were having a time of it, so we had to focus on our game today."
Had they watched LeMay and Schaab closely, they would've seen that, in order to dig their way out of a one-set, 4-1 in the second set deficit, they simply had to put the ball in play. Once they started putting the impetus on their opponents with ground strokes, it was as good as over.
"They're highly athletic, and they've got a year of growth on us," Neisewander said. "We gotta hit fast and go deep, or else they'll destroy us. They can pick up almost anything."
"They have really good lobs, and Schmitty is really consistent with it," LeMay said. "J.P. has the good ground strokes. They're good players who will hit it back."
Remember how hard it was to deal with ever losing to one of your siblings at ANYthing? That's kind of what it will be like at practices over the next 10 days. But much like in our households growing up (I hope, for your sake), the end of the day will arrive with all parties smiling and beaming with pride.
"It's different from other sports, and it's fun to be competitive at practices," Schaab said. "Everyone wants to play at sectionals."
"When you play against your teammates, you can really let loose," Neisewander said. "You don't really have to worry about what the other guy is thinking. You have a lot more fun."
Let the games begin.
– SVM Assistant Sports Editor Christopher Heimerman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org on or Twitter (@CHeimerman_SVM)