Eight For Eight: Total Team Effort Nets State Championship for Tennis Team
All eight of Jesuit’s qualifiers “brought the wood” to the Division One state tennis tournament on Thursday, April 30 and Friday, May 1 in Monroe, and the result was a state championship, the team’s eighth in a row.
Unlike last season, when the Jays clinched the team title on Day One of competition, this one was a nail-biter, with the result very much in question heading into Friday’s semifinal action.
The Jays put themselves in the driver’s seat with a strong performance on Thursday. After a rousing breakfast pep talk from junior Brandon Beck, who invoked Sean Payton’s infamous “bring the wood” mantra from a Saints playoff game with the Arizona Cardinals, a fired up Jesuit team took to the courts and picked up 13 points in the first three rounds of play, leaving them three ahead of Byrd and four up on Catholic of Baton Rouge.
Jesuit’s singles players, Gregory Suhor and Alex DePascual, both advanced to the quarterfinals, earning four critical points in the process. But the seniors then ran into a Catholic High buzz saw. DePascual, the fifth seed, lost to second-seeded Nick Watson, while Suhor, the top seed, fell to Andrew Bienvenu, the sixth seed.
“Hats off to Catholic’s singles players’” said head coach Travis Smith. “Our guys gave everything they had. They just came up a little short. I’m really proud of their effort.”
Despite the singles losses, things were still going according to plan. “We set up this year’s line-up looking to get four points in the singles draw,” Smith explained. “We figured if we could do that, the doubles teams could take care of the rest.”
And take care of it they did.
Jesuit placed all three of its doubles teams in the semifinals. The top-seeded junior duo of Jonathan and Jacob Niehaus mowed through opponents from Catholic High, Brother Martin and Zachary, all in straight sets.
“We knew all along that Catholic High was our biggest threat,” said Smith. “Knocking one of their doubles teams out in the first round was big.”
Jesuit’s Line 2 doubles team, junior Brandon Beck and sophomore Trey Hamlin, was just as impressive in the first three rounds. They, too, ended the day without dropping a set, defeating opponents from New Iberia, Zachary and St. Paul’s. Beck and Hamlin, the fifth seed, easily handled the third-seeded duo from St. Paul’s in the quarterfinals, posting a 6-4, 6-0 victory in a match that didn’t finish until 10:30 p.m.
Jesuit’s unseeded Line 3 doubles team, senior Patrick Torsch and sophomore Jack Steib, faced the day’s toughest road. After an opening win over St. Paul’s Line 2 team, the pair proceeded to knock off two seeded opponents, Mandeville’s Line 1 team (the eighth seed) and Byrd’s Line 1 team (the fourth seed).
“Jack and Patrick came up huge,” said Smith. “All three of their matches were against quality opponents, and they rose to the occasion. When you get three points out of your Line 3 doubles team at state, you’re going to be hard to beat.”
To casual tennis observers, the three-point cushion the Jays brought into Friday’s semifinals might have looked insurmountable. Catholic High, however, still had an opportunity to take the team title. But they had to win out in both singles and doubles play.
Beck and Hamlin made sure that wouldn’t happen. In an epic semifinal match, Beck and Hamlin came back from a set down to drop Catholic High’s Line 1 team, the tournament’s No. 2 seed. In a two-and-a-half hour match that had fans on the edge of their seats, Beck and Hamlin stared down defeat twice, holding serve 4-5 and 5-6 in the third set to force a tiebreaker. On the tiebreaker’s opening point, Beck drilled a return of serve and Hamlin nailed two solid volleys before Beck closed out the point with a monster overhead smash. The pair never looked back from there, closing the door on the Bears’ title hopes with a 7-2 win in the tiebreaker. The final line: 4-6, 6-4, 7-6 (7-2).
In the other semifinal, the Niehauses came out on fire, ending the improbable run by Steib and Torsch with a 6-0, 6-1 win.
“When they’re on, they’re virtually unbeatable,” said Smith of his top doubles team. “And they were on.”
The doubles final lacked the drama of a team title hanging in the balance, but there was still a lot on the line. Beck was looking to collect his second state doubles title (he partnered with Suhor to win the doubles crown in 2014). The Niehauses, meanwhile, were looking for their first, having advanced to the 2014 final before falling to their teammates.
This time around, it was the Niehauses’ turn. Playing nearly flawless tennis, the twins defeated Beck and Hamlin by a score of 6-2, 6-3. In doing so, the Niehauses finished out a perfect season. The only team to even take a set off the Niehauses this year? Beck and Hamlin, who pushed the champs to three sets in the regional final back on April 21.
Jesuit finished the tournament with 16 points. Catholic took the runner-up trophy with 11 and Byrd finished with ten.
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