Chemistry is an important formula when building a doubles team in tennis. Alton seniors Carl Stradal and Drew Hays have it down to a science by simply being best friends.
That friendship forged a dynamic duo on the tennis courts, which led Stradal and Hays to advancing to the second day of the state tournament in the doubles bracket. With that success the Redbird tandem has been named the AdVantage News Boys' Tennis Players of the Year for 2015.
Going 3-2 at state together and advancing to the second day at state was the cherry on top of a fun senior season.
“It was really cool going up to state and playing tennis all year long with my best friend,” Hays said. “We're a real good team, always keep each other up and play hard.”
Stradal thought a strong senior foursome for the Birds with himself, Hays, Jackson Scheiter and Kain Henson helped AHS achieve some success. The history between the quartet on the courts allowed them to challenge one another.
“Even in middle school we've all been playing together, so that's been good because we've been making each other better,” Stradal said. “Over the years Drew has played, but he took a stop last year for soccer so we missed him, but he came back this year and that was big for the team.”
Stradal and Hays kicked off state by winning 6-1, 6-3. In round two they stumbled 6-1, 6-0, but recovered nicely in the consolation bracket, prevailing 7-5, 5-7, 6-0 and 2-6, 6-4, 7-6 (3) to close out the first day at state with a 3-1 mark. On Day 2 the duo then saw their aspirations halted in a 7-5, 6-4 loss to Rory O'Donnell and Jack Bernstein of LaGrange Lyons.
“When we got up there we just started playing really well together,” Stradal said. “We got to the second day and only five other people from Alton High have ever done that.”
Hays relished in the experience. It was his first trip there. Stradal also advanced in doubles as a sophomore with Alex Willis and as a junior with Scheiter.
“It was really cool for me going to state for the first time,” Hays said. “There was some really good competition up there and it was really cool seeing us compete with those teams. We played really well.”
The run at state came after a third-place finish in the Alton Sectional. The Redbirds finished second to Edwardsville in the sectional standings. EHS' Jonathan Koons and Alex Gray won the sectional doubles crown, while Scheiter and Henson of AHS were runner-up.
That best friend status helped propel Stradal and Hays at the next level. Hays admitted that closeness off the court can work as a hinderance on the court though.
“It makes it easier and harder at the same time,” Hays said smiling. “There are a lot of times where we get mad at each other, but after the match is over we are once again best friends.”
Stradal added, “We've had our ups and downs, but it's always on the court, not off the court.”
Both earned all-conference honors. Stradal was first team, while Hays made the third team.
With all the success, maybe the most rewarding was the strong state run in head coach Jesse Macias' final season at the helm of the Redbirds. In 13 seasons Macias was 152-92 at Alton. He leaves as the school's winningest coach.
“For a coach that's worked that hard through the years, we've had a great turnout,” Stradal said. “We thought we owed it to coach by playing our hearts out up there. Since it's his last year we wanted to make it special for him. I know we're not Pat (Logan) and Pat (Spain), because they made it to the quarters, but we're best friends and we try our best and try and make everybody happy.”