Jesuit Tennis Takes Fifth in 40-team McGill-Toolen Invitational Field
Jesuit’s two-year run as champions of the McGill-Toolen Invitational came to an end on Saturday, March 17 in Mobile, Alabama, as the Jays were upended by Vestavia Hills (Birmingham) in a thrilling 5-4 quarterfinal loss. The Jays regrouped to take two consolation matches on Sunday and finish in 5th place overall in the 40-team field.
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Jesuit opened play with an 8-1 win over Enterprise (Alabama), behind the strong play of senior Jack Steib, who posted wins at Line 1 in both singles and doubles.
Against Vestavia Hills, Jesuit dug an early hole, dropping four of six singles matches, including two in third-set tiebreakers. But wins by Steib and freshman Jojo Sandoz at Lines 1 and 2 gave the Jays a fighting chance heading into doubles, and fight they did. First off the court for Jesuit were Sandoz and senior Graham Buck at Line Two. Then it was a pair of juniors, Christian Lacoste and Andrew Ryan, picking up a huge win at Line Three. A day that had begun with team warm-ups at 8:00 a.m. all came down to Line 1 doubles under the lights at night, with a raucous crowd for both sides cheering every point. Steib and senior Trey Hamlin clawed back from an 0-3 deficit, but ultimately fell just short, dropping a 9-7 decision.
On Sunday, Jesuit bounced back with wins over Niceville (Florida) and St. Paul’s Episcopal School (Mobile). The Niceville match was especially close, with Lacoste and freshman Dexter Webster winning critical third-set tiebreakers in singles play. Junior Andrew Ryan also picked up a big win at Line 4 singles, fighting off four consecutive set points in the first set before winning 7-6, 7-5.
Rounding out the seven-member contingent of Jesuit’s A-Team was senior Graham Buck, who won seven of his eight matches.
The A-Team wasn’t the only group of varsity players seeing action over the weekend. Jesuit fielded three teams in the varsity competition. The Varsity B-Team finished 11th overall, while the C-Team finished 22nd.
The B-Team almost pulled the upset of the tournament in the first round of play, dropping a 5-4 decision to McGill-Toolen. Freshman James Henican gutted out a third-set tiebreaker at Line 3 singles in that match, as did sophomore Colin Meyer at Line Six. With senior Leo Seoane making short work of his opponent on Line 5, The Jays had a fighting chance heading into the doubles competition, but were only able to close out one of the three doubles matches.
In the next round, the B-Team bested St. Louis Catholic (Lake Charles), winning five of six singles matches. Senior Luke Lingle, playing in his first varsity competition since being sidelined just prior to state last year with an arm injury, won an epic match at Line 1 singles. Lingle dropped the first set 5-7, and was down 5-6 in the second. But he forced a second-set tiebreaker, which he won 7-3. Then it was on to a 10-point tiebreaker for the match. Lingle fell behind 3-7 before rallying for an 11-9 win, clinching the team’s overall victory before doubles play even started.
On Sunday, the B-Team lost to UMS-Wright Preparatory School (Mobile) before closing with an impressive win over Gulf Breeze (Florida). Seaone and sophomore Cole Lacour put an exclamation mark on the final win with a dominating performance at Line 1 doubles.
Also contributing to the B-Team were freshman Sid Trouard, who found rough sledding at Line 1 singles, but scored wins in three of four doubles matches at Line Two. Junior John Nuttli, meanwhile, posted a 5-1 record in the tournament at Line 6 singles and Line 3 doubles.
Jesuit’s C-Team picked up a first round win over Resurrection Catholic (Pascagoula). The Jays’ depth came up big in that one. Sophomore David Nimmo and junior Paul Myers fell at Lines 1 and 2 in singles, but a quartet of freshmen–Pierce Westbrook, Tom Levy, Wes Melito, and Luke Russo–swept their matches on Lines 3-6. In doubles play, Nimmo and Myers picked up a win at Line 2, and Levy and Russo closed out the scoring on Line Three.
In round two, the C-Team ran into a Huntsville High School (Alabama) buzz saw, dropping a 9-0 decision. Melito gave the team its best chance to break into the scoring column in that one, forcing a third-set tiebreaker at Line 5 singles, but coming up just short in a two-hour battle.
On Sunday, the C-Team opened with a tight win over the Niceville B-Team. That match started with doubles competition, and sophomores Stephen Redfearn and William Bostick opened the scoring with a key win on Line Three.
But the C-Team ran out of gas in its final match against the C-Team from Catholic High (Baton Rouge). Despite clutch tiebreaker wins by Melito and Russo in singles, the Jays dropped a 6-3 decision (Catholic High’s A-Team won the tournament in dominant fashion, dropping only one of its 36 matches).
“This tournament is arguably the highlight of our year,” said head coach Travis Smith. “Every year we come to Mobile, and every year we leave a better team. Each and every one of the 22 players we brought had at least one critical win during the tournament. Ten different guys won third-set tiebreakers, and in doing so learned they could win under pressure. The experience of playing in such a competitive environment prior to the regional and state tournaments is just so critical to the development of our players.”
“I say this every year, but I’m so thankful to have an administration that understands and supports our tennis program. Very few schools have the opportunity to experience something like this.”
Jesuit hits the road again next week, this time for a national tournament, the DecoTurf High School Tennis Team Championships in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Match play starts on Friday, March 24.