The Edwardsville Sectional in boys’ tennis on Friday and Saturday at the EHS Tennis Center will be the last of its kind.
This season marks the last in a one-class system in the IHSA for boys’ and girls’ tennis. Beginning in the fall with girls’ tennis, it will expand to a two-class system, which should benefit the smaller schools but could handcuff the larger programs.
This will be the first time tennis has expanded classes. The boys’ tennis state series began in 1936 and has remained one class, while the girls started in 1972 and has been one class ever since.
“We haven’t talked much about it because it is next year,” Marquette Catholic head coach Mike Walters said. “And although it’s going to be nice to be playing 1A, it still depends on where they put us. There are a lot of good 1A schools that are within an hour of here and if they put us in with some of those tougher ones, we could be in the same boat we are this year. We’ll wait to see what the IHSA does next year, but we’re concentrating on this year right now.”
And this year, like always, will include the Edwardsville Tigers. The Tigers just secured their 16th straight Southwestern Conference championship last weekend and now turn their attention toward a 16th consecutive sectional crown.
The rest of the field, including Marquette, Alton, Civic Memorial, East Alton-Wood River, Roxana, Metro East Lutheran and Jersey, are there to scrap for the leftovers.
“That streak is alive,” EHS assistant coach Jamaal Heavens said following the SWC Tournament. He was filling in for head coach Dave Lipe at the conference soirée. “These guys know what it takes to be successful. Lipe challenges them a lot by going up north and playing the Chicago teams. Getting a big win at the NaperValley Tournament gave these guys the confidence that they are able to compete with the teams up north and hopefully that translates to the sectional.”
The sectional is formatted with each team entering two singles flights and two doubles teams. The top four slots in singles and doubles advance to the state tournament.
State kicks off on May 26 and extends through May 28 in Chicagoland. Tournament central will be at Hersey High School in Arlington Heights, but matches will be dispersed over multiple Windy City locations.
With the likelihood of being thrown in a sectional pool with Belleville East, Belleville West and O’Fallon as well as Edwardsville next year, the Alton Redbirds understand their opportunity to qualify individuals this season.
“I don’t want to say I’m nervous because I don’t want to jinx myself, but I know this is a real important time,” Alton’s Silas Chapman said. “I’ve been thinking about it all year, training for it and I just feel confident that my team and I will send our four that we’ve been hoping for. This is the year to do it, because next year is going to be tough. That doesn’t mean we can’t do it next year, but we’ve got to focus on one year at a time.”
Last season the Birds qualified a pair of doubles teams in Jackson Scheiter/Kain Henson and Carl Stradal/Drew Hays, but all were seniors and have graduated from the program.
First-year Alton boys’ head coach Robert Logan said even with the inexperience he believes his team will find success at sectionals. The Redbirds finished fifth in the eight-team SWC Tournament.
“I don’t want to single anybody out because they all deserve credit for how hard they’ve been working,” Logan said. “I’m very happy with them.”
Logan has talked with his team about the end of the era of a one-class tennis system in the IHSA. The Birds do enter Friday with a little sense of urgency.
“(Chapman) realizes that next year it’s basically going to be a conference tournament plus Quincy probably,” Logan said. “Maybe some of the Springfield or Normal teams will find their way into 2A so we can maybe push some of our SWC teams out of our sectional. I understand why they’re doing it, make it fair for the smaller schools, but it’s going to be rough (for us). We’ve got a decent chance of getting a singles and a doubles player through this year and that’s all you ask for is a shot.”
Chapman will play No. 1 singles for Alton and Walker Moan will be No. 2. The No. 1 doubles team will be Jett Durr/Adam Kane, while No. 2 will be Sam Kane/Ben Simansky.
Walters hopes for a strong showing from his Explorers, too. It’s been an emotional roller coaster for Marquette’s netters this season with the death of teammate Zack Hunter in an automobile accident. They compiled a strong regular season and hope to continue their good fortunes at the sectional.
The entire sectional field showed their support for the Explorers at 12:15 p.m. Friday, all showing up at EHS for a group photo wearing shirts honoring Hunter in their school’s respective colors.
“We are going in with an open mind,” Walters said of sectional play. “We’re not quite sure what’s going to happen. I think we should have a seed or two, one in singles, one in doubles and we’re hoping somebody should be able to slide in and get to state.”
Marquette enters Jon Claywell at No. 1 singles and Joe Segneri at No. 2. The doubles entries are: Nathan Walters/Daniel McCluskey at No. 1 and Alex Cousley/Ryan Hecksel at No. 2.
It should be a good weekend for tennis. Let’s wish luck to all the local netters and applaud the ones that reach their state aspirations; it’s never an easy task.
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