GODFREY — Alton High boys' tennis coach Jesse Macias was all smiles on Saturday; so were the senior doubles tandem of Kain Henson and Drew Hays.
The Redbirds had just secured their third straight Alton Invitational championship and Henson and Hays were key cogs in completing that goal, winning the No. 1 doubles title.
Alton accumulated 41 points to outlast runner-up Chatham Glenwood, which tallied 35 points. The rest of the eight-team field rounded out with: Teutopolis (32), Saint Louis University High (25), DeSmet (23.5), Fort Zumwalt South (22), University High Urbana (21) and Belleville Althoff (18).
“It's nice,” Macias said with an ear-to-ear grin. “We've taken some lumps this year and I knew we'd be in it for the team thing, because we are a good team. To actually get first, it's exciting and it's great for the kids. I wouldn't say they've struggled, but it has been a rough year, so to win it just feels good. I feel great for them.”
Hays admitted securing the championship as a team far overshadowed he and Henson winning the No. 1 doubles flight and being a senior made it that much sweeter.
“You always like to win your own tournament,” Hays said. “And especially with good teams like Althoff and Teutopolis. It's big for the town.”
The tournament was spread between Lewis and Clark's Simpson Tennis Complex, Alton High and Rock Spring Park. While it was sweet for the seniors Hays and Henson, it was equally memorable for Macias, who was coaching in his last Alton Invitational. Macias announced before the start of the season that he would step down to focus on his family following the 2015 campaign.
“It's just a nice way to go out. It's a fun tournament with a lot of good teams in it,” Macias said. “It's always fun to win, but your last year (it's great). I knew we'd be in it, but I wasn't really expecting that we'd get first. I'm excited about that. The kids, all their hard work is paying off.”
Besides Hays and Henson, Jackson Scheiter was the champion at No. 2 singles. Scheiter won 6-1, 6-0 over Donovan McKnight from Belleville Althoff in dominating fashion in the championship match.
Hays and Henson's title wasn't capture quite as easily. The AHS tandem went to a tie breaker to beat top-seeded Teutopolis' Nick Pals and Andy Mersman 4-6, 6-3, 12-10.
Henson said he and Hays just had to buckle down after dropping the opening set, limiting their errors.
“We had to stay positive,” Henson said. “We couldn't get down on ourselves after we were missing easy shots. That first set we got a little angry and the second set we kept positive energy and kept it going to get to the tiebreaker.”
Macias said he had faith in his veteran netters, even after they dropped the initial set and they proved him to be correct.
“I just had faith in them that they were going to come back,” Macias said. “They were competitive, they weren't playing great. Teutopolis is very good. Those kids they beat were state qualifiers, so you know you're not going to come out and just run over a team like that. I knew they'd get it together. They both have a lot of experience and they both play well. They fought off three match points and when you're playing in the finals there is a lot of pressure anyway, but to fight off three match points and come back after losing the first set, it's a big win for our team.”
In No. 1 singles, Carl Stradal of the Redbirds took second place, as did Jett Durr and Alex Piazza at No. 2 doubles. Silas Chapman and Walker Moan finished third at No. 3 doubles and Quinn Whitten teamed with foreign exchange student Julius Resche to finish fourth at No. 4 doubles.
Henson thinks the Birds are progressing in the right direction and with a mix of youth and experience, there are good times ahead. Saturday's win could prove to be the spark they needed.
“We definitely have a lot of senior leadership on the team,” Henson said. “Our top five are all seniors and we all get good wins. We lose a little bit because when we get a little deeper we're a little younger, but once they get a little more mature and gain a little more experience then they'll be OK.”
Next up for Alton is Chaminade, who will visit AHS at 4 p.m. on Wednesday.