The Marquette Mustangs showed coach Alex Nelle something in winning the Holt Tournament for the third year in a row.
Marquette won the recent two-day event with a 5-4 win over Ladue.
“This was the first time all season that we played such a close match with an opponent, so the boys showed that they wouldn’t get intimidated by the moment and wouldn’t give up easily,” Nelle said. “I think the experience from the match will be very beneficial as we get into the tougher portion of our schedule.”
The cold, wet spring has slowed progress for many teams. The Mustangs are no exception.
“We have gotten off to a good start this year but, due to all the rain we have had so far, several matches have been canceled,” Nelle said. “This has prevented us from getting into a good rhythm, as we haven’t been able to have a consistent schedule yet.”
The Holt meet had 16 teams in the field. In each of the past three years, Marquette and Ladue have squared off for the championship.
Nelle expected a rematch again this time.
“I think from the very beginning of the tournament, it was clear that Ladue and us were the top two teams of the tournament,” Nelle said. “Even though the competition wasn’t as strong this year compared to previous years, being able to play six matches in two days allowed us to get a lot of game experience that we were lacking from all the rainouts this year.”
In fact, the Mustangs planned on winning, Nelle said.
“We went into the tournament expecting to win it, as we had won the tournament the previous two years,” Nelle said. “We knew we would have to beat Ladue to win it again this year, which was not going to be easy since they are a very strong team.”
On the first day of action, Marquette played Hannibal, Fort Zumwalt East and Liberty. Marquette rolled and beat each team 5-0.
“I was happy with how we played the first day,” Nelle said. “We stayed focused during matches and didn’t make a lot of mental mistakes.”
Marquette’s first match on the second day of play was against Parkway Central. Again, the Mustangs won 5-0. The Mustangs played St. Dominic in the semifinals and beat the Crusaders 5-0 to set up the championship match against Ladue.
“This was the third straight year that we had played Ladue for the championship but, unlike last year, Ladue wasn’t missing their top players this year,” Nelle said. “I wouldn’t classify our matches as a rivalry, as I approach them more as two good teams competing against each other. [Ladue] Coach [Margaret] Junker always has her teams playing at a high level so, when we play Ladue, we know that it will be a tough competitive match.”
It played out like Nelle thought it would.
“It was a very close match and, luckily for us, we were able to come out of the doubles portion of the match leading 2-1,” Nelle said. “As we went into the singles portion of the match, it was clear it was probably going to come down to the final court. We won at the No. 1 singles spot, No. 5 singles spot, and then the No. 6 singles spot was the clinching match. Both teams competed on every court, and throughout the match the overall score went back and forth.”
Simon Kauppila and Jack Shi lost 8-5 in No. 1 doubles to Aaron Umen and Jeremy Ouyang. Umen and Ouyang were third in Class 2 state doubles last spring.
“I was proud of the effort that Simon and Jack gave, but Aaron and Jeremy are such a great doubles team, so we knew going in that it would be a tough match for us to win,” Nelle said. “I wouldn’t be shocked to see Aaron and Jeremy win the doubles title this year, as they are such a great team.
“We played very well at No. 2 doubles [Ethan Hinni and Adnan Pattan were] able to win that match 8-3. The No. 3 doubles was a back and forth match between the two teams and it ended up going to a tie-break. We pulled the tie-break out 8-6, which ended up being a huge victory in the overall match.”
At No. 1 singles, Kauppila, a junior, defeated Aaron Umen 8-4.
“I was very impressed by Simon in his victory over Aaron Umen at No. 1 singles,” Nelle said. “He controlled most of the points and competed very hard, which I think gave the other guys on the team the confidence that we were going to win the match.
“Adnan Pattan also had a huge victory for us at No. 5 singles, as he was down 5-2 at one point and came back to win that match 9-7. That gave us four wins overall and we were confident that Vineel Kothuri was going to win at No. 6 singles.”
Kothuri did come through for the Mustangs in the deciding match against Shrey Dharnidharka.
“We were up the entire match and ended up winning that court 8-1 to clinch the overall match,” Nelle said.
The Mustangs enjoyed their third title in the tournament, Nelle said.
“The boys were really excited to win the tournament, as several of the boys didn’t play varsity last year, so this was a new experience to them,” Nelle said.
To win the event again shows the strength of the Marquette program.
“We have had some very strong teams the last few years, so I’m proud that we have been able to win the tournament three years in a row,” Nelle said. “Last year we beat Ladue, but it wasn’t their full team so that win wasn’t as satisfying as the first year or this year. I hope we can continue this run of success not only this year but also going forward in future years.”