Youthful Pilgrims fall to veteran Tigers

PLYMOUTH — Despite its youth, Plymouth’s tennis lineup has been able to accomplish some pretty special things on its way to a 5-0 start to the season. On Thursday, though, the Pilgrims’ inexperience finally caught up with them.
Plymouth was able to take wins on both doubles courts, but the young Pilgrims — who feature two sophomores and one freshman in their singles lineup — were swept by a veteran Warsaw squad at all three singles positions, falling 3-2 to their Northern Lakes Conference rivals in a tennis meet at home at the Mary Beth Hunter Tennis Complex at Centennial Park.
“They’ve done some stuff that other teams have not done. We haven’t gotten to that point where we’re 5-0 the past several years,” said Plymouth head tennis coach Michael Delp. “They’ve done some things, and they put it in the bank like we talk about — you win a 3-2 match against Peru when you’re down, a lot of guys have kind of battled back in sets. So every little thing has kind of added to that experience. You play a team that on paper should beat you, can you come out and beat a team like that? Tonight they didn’t do that, but they got to experience that.”
“I’m not disappointed with our effort or focus in any way, shape or form,” Delp added. “I just think we’ve got to learn from it, and some of our guys have got to get a little more offensive game as the season goes along and maybe become a little more consistent in those big points.”
Delp knew his Pilgrims had their work cut out for them in singles play against the top-NLC competitor Tigers, but Plymouth did get get wins on both doubles courts, first at 1 doubles — where the team’s lone senior Matt Flynn paired with junior Max Holloway for a quick 6-2, 6-1 victory over Warsaw’s Kyle Wettschurack and Nic Jansen — and then at 2 doubles, where Braydon Davidson and Ryan Johnson rallied back from a first-set loss to put away Christophoer Herendeen and Ryan Wettschurack in three, 3-6, 6-2, 6-3 in the final varsity match to finish up Thursday.
“We talked to our doubles before we got here. We knew with their experience at singles, we’d have to pull out both doubles and we’d probably have to find a way to scratch out a singles match. It kind of ended up that way,” said Delp. “Not that it was guaranteed at doubles. I thought at 1 they played particularly well today; they really executed well. They’ve really been sharp against other teams. Doubles is different than singles — you get some momentum and they can really be off the court quick, and that’s what happened at 1. They’ve kind of taken teams’ wind out and not really let them in the match.”
Plymouth’s most competitive showing in singles came on the No. 2 court, where freshman John Gerard extended Warsaw senior Will Petro to 10 games in both sets on his way to a competitive 6-4, 6-4 loss. The freshman even led his Tigers counterpart briefly at 4-3 in the second set.
“He’s starting to figure out his game,” Delp said. “We’ve had John Hunter, Gabe Vervycnkt playing singles the last few years as freshmen, and they played 3. John’s playing 2; that’s a tough jump for a freshman. He’s going to play some guys that have a little more refined game. That kid had a bigger weapon as we like to say — he had a strong forehand and he won some points by hitting a strong forehand where John’s still trying to develop that part of his game. He’s such a hustler and competitor, but he’s got to get something he can go to.”
Sophomore Nate Knapp started to figure out Warsaw senior Evan Miller in the second set at 3 singles, meanwhile, as he extended Miller — the 2012 NLC No. 2 singles champion — to nine games before succumbing 6-1, 6-3.
“He has some experience at singles, and I thought Nate got into the match in the second set late and kind of figured some stuff out. The kid’s a very heavy player,” said Delp. “They like to get their advantages with their crowd; they kind of coach their crowd to get behind certain players and kind of get into the head of some of our players, and our guys know that. That might have rattled Nate a little bit, but I think he kind of gained some confidence from that second set. I was proud of him for battling today.”
Meanwhile, Plymouth sophomore John Hunter pushed Warsaw junior Sam Rice to nine games in the first set at 1 singles, but after a marathon three-setter with Triton’s Dean Howdeshell Wednesday night, fatigue seemed to catch up with him in the second set, and he fell 6-3, 6-1.
“He played at least three hours last night,” Delp said of his No. 1. “There were some long, grueling points. It was a well-played match. He got down 5-0, and I kind of got into him a little bit and challenged him, and he did a good job of responding. I was worried coming in. I would never give him that excuse coming into the match, but he’s young still and he doesn’t have the strength to play at that high a level all the time, and he needs to get that. So that’s the positive of playing back-to-back, even though it’s back-to-back losses.”
The Pilgrims slip to 5-1 overall with their first loss and a 1-1 start to their NLC slate. Warsaw moves to 6-2 and stays unbeaten in conference play at 3-0. Delp said his team will learn from the loss as it moves forward into the rest of the conference season. And the Pilgrims still have plenty to play for.
“We’ll have to battle a lot more conference opponents, but there have been a lot of years where the team that finished second in round robin finds a way, and we’ll approach it that way,” he said.
At Plymouth
SINGLES: 1. Sam Rice (W) beat John Hunter 6-3, 6-1; 2. Will Petro (W) beat John Gerard 6-4, 6-4; 3. Evan Miller (W) beat Nate Knapp 6-1, 6-3.
DOUBLES: 1. Matt Flynn-Max Holloway (P) beat Kyle Wettschurack-Nic Jansen 6-2, 6-1; 2. Braydon Davidson-Ryan Johnson (P) beat Christophoer Herendeen-Ryan Wettschurack 3-6, 6-2, 6-3.
Records: Plymouth 5-1 (1-1 NLC), Warsaw 6-2 (3-0 NLC).
JV score: Warsaw 6, Plymouth 6