The Marquette Mustangs boys tennis team capped an undefeated season with a district team championship.
Moreover, the Mustangs won the individual district doubles championships as well.
“We had an outstanding regular season this year,” Marquette coach Alex Nelle said about his squad, which finished 19-0. It is the first time a boys team had done that. I couldn’t have asked for a better performance by the boys, as they came with a great attitude every day and played hard in every match.
“Going undefeated in the regular season is a big accomplishment for the boys, as we always try to play a difficult schedule to prepare us for the postseason. So, to beat every team on our schedule was impressive.”
Next up for the Mustangs is a sectional round match against Lindbergh [16-3] at 9 a.m. on Saturday, May 19. The winner then plays the quarterfinal match in the afternoon against the winner of the Ladue [17-7]-Oakville [9-7] match.
“We played Lindbergh in the regular season and it was a very close match like it has been the last few years,” Nelle said. “We beat them 6-3 during the regular season, and I’m sure it will be another close match between us on the 19th. We are two of the top teams in the state, so whoever wins our match will have definitely earned the win and deserves to go to the Final Four.”
Last spring, Lindbergh defeated Marquette 5-1 in the quarterfinals and went on to finish second in the state to powerful Rock Bridge.
The Class 2 state championship will be held on Thursday, May 24 in Springfield. The semifinal matched begins at 9 a.m. The championship and third-place matches start at 1 p.m.
Nelle does not believe there is any added pressure on his Mustangs carrying that undefeated record into action this weekend. Two wins in the district gives Marquette a 21-0 record.
“We haven’t focused really at all on our record this season, so I don’t think being undefeated has added any pressure to us,” Nelle said. “This team has done a really good job of focusing on our next opponent, instead of worrying about our record and other things.”
Before postseason began, Nelle believed in his team and liked its chances going forward.
“Going into districts I was confident that we would play well. We knew we would play Lafayette or Eureka in the first match, and we had played well against both of them in the regular season, so I was confident that we could do that again,” Nelle said. “That meant we would either play Parkway West or Parkway South for the championship match. Both of those teams presented challenges for us as we hadn’t seen Parkway West all season and Parkway South has Carson Haskins on their team, so that presents challenges by itself. Whichever team we played though, I was confident that we had enough depth on our team to win the title.”
Doing well in the district was on the Mustangs’ checklist for accomplishments this season.
“The boys were really focused heading into districts, as we always set a goal of winning districts at the beginning of the year,” Nelle said. “They knew this one would be special as Marquette has never had a tennis team win three straight district championships, so I think that motivated the boys to play well throughout the tournament.
“I don’t think the entire district was as strong this year as it was the previous two years. The top teams in the district, us, Parkway South, and Parkway West, all had great seasons, so I knew they would be tough matches to win. Lafayette lost five of their six players from last year, so they weren’t as strong as last year, and Eureka and Summit are still trying to get their depth back from a few years ago.”
Marquette opened District 3 at Lafayette against the host Lancers. The Mustangs scored a 5-0 victory.
“The boys played better against Lafayette this time compared to when we played them in the regular season,” Nelle said. “We were able to sweep doubles and then Simon Kauppila and Robbie Zhang won their singles matches to close out the match.”
That set up a match against Parkway South for the district championship.
“Heading into the South match, I just told the boys to play hard, play to our abilities, and to always compete for each point,” Nelle said. “South had several seniors on their team, so we knew that it would not be easy to beat them, as seniors always play a little harder in districts. I knew that if we were ahead after the doubles matches, we had a good chance to win the match. We played well in all three doubles matches and were able to win No. 2 and No. 3 doubles against South.”
Ethan Hinni, Zhang, and Alec Bleyer each won their singles matches to close out the match for the Mustangs.
“The boys were thrilled when we closed out the match against South,” Nelle said. “For most of the team, it was their first district championship so we had a good celebration after the match.
“The whole team really played a part in us winning the district. All three of our doubles teams won matches throughout the tournament and if we had completed the full match against Parkway South, then every singles player would have won a match in the tournament.”
It was the third district title in Marquette history.
Saturday can be a long day with two matches to play if Mustangs defeat Lindbergh. Nelle said he and the boys are ready.
“Since our match with Lindbergh will be a very close match, it could easily take four to five hours to complete,” Nelle said. “The challenge for the winner of our match will be endurance, as Ladue’s first match should not last as long as our match.
“If we beat Lindbergh, then we will face a very strong team in Ladue, so we will have to play well in both matches on Saturday to advance to the final four. To help us prepare for the long day, we have been having multiple Saturday practices and trying to create a schedule that will maximize our energy going into the 19th.”
In the district doubles competition, it was all Marquette. Simon Kauppila and Jack Chen Shi scored a 6-3, 6-1 victory over teammates Ethan Hinni and Adnan Pattan.
“Going into individual districts, our goal was to get two doubles teams to the finals,” Nelle said. “We knew Parkway South would have a strong doubles team, as we had played their No. 2 doubles team twice during the season and it was a very close match each time. Since our match against Parkway West got canceled due to rain, we won’t really sure what their teams would look like, but I was confident that both of our teams would play well enough to advance.”
Kauppila and Shi were 18-3 going into district play as a duo this season.
“Jack and Simon have had a great season in doubles,” Nelle said. “I was confident that they could make it to the finals. During the tournament, they just continued their great play all season and easily won the tournament.”
It was Kauppila’s second doubles district championship. His partner last spring was Trenton Wherry.
“To repeat was a goal of his heading into the tournament,” Nelle said. “What makes Simon unique, is that he can take over a match at the net. He is so smart in setting up his shots and opponents for what he wants to have happen in the point, so that gives us a huge advantage against most teams.”
In the sectional round, Kauppila and Shi will play CBC’s tandem of Clayton Maack and David Abilez. Hinni and Pattan will play Ladue’s Jeremy Ouyang and Aaron Umen.