FOUNTAIN CITY, Ind.
When Jacob Rankin was a freshman and lost a close match to Centerville No. 1 singles player Zach Sandlin in the sectional, Rankin said he realized he was “pretty good.”
Centerville was the measuring stick for area tennis, but ever since that eye opener, Northeastern has reversed the roles.
The following season, Northeastern ended Centerville’s 87-match winning streak in the Tri-Eastern Conference and an 11-year reign atop the league and continued a run of its own on Wednesday when the Knights took down Centerville 4-1 to put their conference record at 6-0, on the verge of their third straight TEC title.
Northeastern is scheduled to play Union City today then host the conference tournament Saturday.
“It’s great. It’s nice being comfortable coming into the match, knowing we’re not the underdog, knowing we just have to play our game and things should go right,” said Rankin after his 6-3, 6-1 win at No. 1 singles Wednesday. “It’s been really great just being able to win all these TEC matches, and hopefully, we can pick up a win over Union City.”
The Knights have won 21 straight TEC matches, three sectionals and a regional title. They are currently ranked No. 15 in the Indiana High School Tennis Coaches Association (IHSTeCA) state poll.
Wednesday’s match showed why, as Grant Esposito started with a dominant 6-0, 6-0 victory at No. 2 singles that took about 20 minutes to complete.
The No. 1 doubles team of Charlie Webster and Craig Dingwerth won 6-2, 6-1, before Shane Stiner clinched the victory with a 6-1, 6-2 win at No. 3 singles.
Rankin soon followed, but the longest match of the night continued until about 7 p.m.
Northeastern’s Corey Dingwerth and Broc Hornung won the first set at No. 2 doubles and led 4-1 in the second, before Matt Stamper and Craig Lair rallied to take it 7-6.
Stamper and Lair led 4-1 in the third set and Dingwerth and Hornung came back to make it 6-5, but the Bulldog duo held on for Centerville’s only point, a 3-6, 7-6, 7-5 win.
“We’re outmatched, obviously, at 2 singles and 1 singles, but I thought our 1 singles (Brady Wagenknecht) played pretty well,” Centerville coach Randy Ecker said. ” … All the way around, I thought they didn’t do a bad job. It is what it is. There are times you have people who are better than you and you just have to play a little harder, but I thought they fought. I didn’t think they gave up, and that’s kind of what you want at this point.”
The Bulldogs fell to 4-2 in the TEC, and lost two conference matches under Ecker for the first time since 1983.
They also lost two matches during his two years away from the program in 1994-95.
“It’s a good position for conference. If we can finish the tournament, it’d be three years in a row for the conference. It’s a nice feeling,” Northeastern coach Mike Esposito said.
“We still have a lot of work to do on Saturday and potentially Monday if we get to the finals.”