EDWARDSVILLE — The Alton Redbirds are well aware of the challenge awaiting them every time they visit the EHS Tennis Center.
The Edwardsville Tigers are annually the top dogs in the Southwestern Conference. They have won at least a share of the SWC crown for 14 straight seasons.
On Wednesday, the Redbirds visited EHS, falling 9-0 to the Tigers. With the loss, they dropped to 2-9 overall and 1-2 in league play.
AHS head coach Jesse Macias has a squad consisting of both senior leaders and inexperienced players. He thought the inexperience showed through on Wednesday. The Birds were coming off a 9-0 win over Collinsville on Monday.
“The doubles were definitely a stronger point for us,” Macias said. “I'm happy with how they played. We played a good team, but our kids played hard and we just got beat. We will see them again in conference, we'll see them again in sectionals. I'm really proud of our kids for fighting, we just didn't get the win today.”
Long time Edwardsville head coach Dave Lipe commended the Redbirds for their effort Wednesday. They pushed the Tigers in spots.
“Alton's a solid team,” Lipe said. “They've got those three seniors (Carl Stradal, Kain Henson and Jackson Scheiter) that we knew would be formidable and the Alton kids are always good at doubles. It's always special when we play them because it's a conference match and they're in our sectional too and all those things add up to this being a big deal for us and I'm really pleased with how we played, especially in singles.”
Singles were rough for the Redbirds. Carl Stradal fell 6-2, 6-0 to Erik Weiler at No. 1, while Jackson Scheiter lost 6-2, 6-2 to Jonathan Koons at No. 2, Kain Henson fell 6-0, 6-0 to Alex Gray at No. 3, Drew Hays dropped his match 6-1, 6-0 to Kyle Carlson at No. 4, Alex Piazza stumbled 6-0, 6-0 to Joe Mezo at No. 5 and Silas Chapman lost 6-1, 6-0 to Carson Ware at No. 6.
Scores were a little tighter in doubles with Henson and Scheiter pairing up at No. 1 for AHS, losing 7-5, 6-3 to Koons and Mezo. At No. 2, Stradal and Hays fell 6-3, 6-3 to Gray and Carlson, while at No. 3 it was the Alton tandem of Piazza and Walker Moan losing 6-1, 6-0 to Weiler and Ware.
“Our top kids are playing well,” Macias said. “We have a couple of new kids and they're still transitioning to what varsity is like. I'm just really proud of our older kids, I feel like they fight the fight, they know how tough conference is. We were definitely not as strong as them in the lower part of the lineup today and they were stronger than us at the top too, but we'll be good. Our older kids know it's a long haul and our younger kids will keep adjusting and getting better as the season goes on.”
Piazza, Chapman and Moan are some of those young players cutting their teeth on varsity tennis for the Birds.
The Tigers, who graduated four of their top players from their sectional and state lineup last season, are transitioning well this season according to Lipe. EHS is 6-5 overall and 2-0 in the SWC after Wednesday.
“I feel this team is very similar to the teams we've had in the past,” Lipe said. “I think a lot of people anticipated a pretty big drop off, but I don't think it's there. I think these kids have stepped in and are competing well and are maintaining the standards to which our program has become accustomed. I think this is a very strong varsity team. Our numbers are a little lower overall. We only have 16 kids in our program this year. I think we'll have closer to 24 again next year, but that's where we are this year and I'm very confident in the kids we're running out there on a weekly basis.”
Macias and the Redbirds will now shift their attention toward playing host to the Alton Invitational on Saturday. The eight-team tournament will include AHS, Chatham Glenwood, Belleville Althoff, Teutopolis, University High of Urbana, Saint Louis University High, DeSmet and Fort Zumwalt South.
Play kicks off at 9:30 a.m. with the championship round beginning at 2 p.m. It will be played at Lewis and Clark, Alton High and Rock Spring Park. The format is two singles flights and four doubles flights.
The Redbirds are the tournament's defending champs.
“This will be a fun weekend for all of our players,” said Macias. “We have struggled at times this year, but everyone is looking forward to Saturday.”