Day 2 of the boys state tennis tournament is usually when the heavy lifting is done for teams with championship aspirations – and Watertown did some considerable lifting Friday at McKennan Park.
The tournament-favorite Arrows secured spots in the championship matches of the top three singles flights and have all three doubles teams in the semifinals as they sit atop the team standings with 527 points.
Rapid City Stevens is second with 506 points, followed by O’Gorman (486) and Lincoln (442).
“I’ve got so much respect for the O’Gormans and Lincolns and Stevens – they’ve been such a big factor in South Dakota tennis,” said Watertown coach Scott Ewald. “To be in the mix with those teams, we feel pretty good about it.”
The ESD champions were able to credit much of their separation on Day 2 to head-to-head wins over their closest challengers, including a pair of Flight 1 singles victories from senior Jordan Feige, who outlasted Lincoln’s Kaleb Dobbs in a three-hour contest 5-7, 7-6 (5), 6-4 before defeating Stevens senior James Ferrier in straight sets 6-3, 6-3.
Feige’s win over Dobbs served as payback for dropping the previous two matches to the eighth grader earlier this season, but not before it looked as if a third straight loss was in the books as Dobbs led 6-5 in the second set.
The senior recovered, thanks in part to his serve, and held on to win the battle as the heat – which wouldn’t have been a problem if not for the extended stay of cold temperatures this spring – and fatigue began to take its toll.
“My serve was doing good the whole day, so I had confidence in that,” said Feige, who faces O’Gorman’s Tommy Entwistle for the state title today at 11 a.m.
Entwistle was able to cruise through to the finals with wins over Pierre’s Nathan Ellenbecker (6-1, 6-2) and Rapid City Central’s Nathaniel Cherry (6-0, 6-1) to set up the first meeting with Feige this season.
“It’s going to be tough,” said Feige. “He’s got a huge serve and forehand, but I’m up for the challenge.”
Watertown senior Tanner Heiser also picked up a big win over an O’Gorman opponent, defeating Ben Czarnecki 6-2, 7-5 to earn a Flight 2 singles title shot against Rapid City Stevens’ Chuck Tang, who downed Lincoln’s Jonah Snyder in three sets.
Mark DeSpiegler is the Arrows’ third hope for a singles championship as he takes on Lincoln’s Austin Noldner at Flight 3 singles.
Despite putting themselves in prime position to claim their first state tennis title since 1994, Ewald and his group aren’t ready to call it a weekend just yet.
“To me, we came in as the underdog, and I’ll be honest, I still think we’re the underdog,” said the Watertown coach. “We’ll just live that way.”
Other singles championship matches today include Jake Moran (O’Gorman) and Brent Heflin (Lincoln) at Flight 4; Alex Hegg (Mitchell) and Mason Schultz (Stevens) at Flight 5; and Brenden Lehr (Mitchell) and Trae Olson (Stevens) at Flight 6.
Doubles semifinals, which were scheduled for Friday afternoon, were moved to today at 8 a.m. Championship matches are set for 1 p.m.
Whereas in past years the tournament has boiled down to “when do O’Gorman and Stevens face off?,” Friday’s collection of matches mirrored the chaos of the team chase and made it hard for teams to pinpoint who to pull for in order to make up points.
“You really can’t stand around and root for any one team,” said O’Gorman coach Don Barnes. “You just have to worry about your own team and how you’re playing. You can get caught in that trap where inside you’re cheering for a team, but it’s not worth the effort.”
The Knights, who have won three of the last four state championships, only have two singles players in the finals and two of three doubles teams still in the title mix. And while the deficit isn’t impossible to make up on championship Saturday, the GDC champions are going need some help along with taking care of their own business.
“I’m not a board watcher. I know we lost in a few singles brackets and that doesn’t sound good, but we’re still playing and nothing’s official yet as far as I know,” said Barnes. “We’ll keep playing and we’ll try to win everything we can.”