La PORTE — Pure exuberation.
That might be the best way to describe the emotions for La Porte's boys tennis team on Wednesday.
Less than 24 hours after claiming what coach Don Varda said was the biggest win with his boys team for sure in his three years at the helm, beating Valparaiso 4-1, Varda had to revise his statement.
“Now this is our biggest win,” he said after the Slicers outlasted perennial power and one-loss South Bend St. Joseph, 3-2, to capture their own regional at the LeRoy Courts in Kesling Park.
"They played to win," Varda continued. "I told them to leave everything on the court. I said, 'Win or lose, you play your best tennis today. If you play your best tennis, the scorecard will take care of itself.' They came out here to play. I was extremely proud of them for being brave."
It was La Porte's boys first regional title since 2007.
Both doubles' spots powered the Slicers (18-6) to the grueling victory over the favored Indians (23-2).
With the overall match tied 2-2, Liam Wolf and Brock Schultz clinched the contest at No. 2 doubles, winning a hard-fought opening set 6-4, then rolling in the second set, 6-1, over Ryan Bruneel and Nathan Roth. With all eyes on them, La Porte's No. 2 doubles' duo, comprised of a sophomore in Wolf and a freshman in Schultz, excelled. They prevailed after Schultz hit the game-winning shot.
“It's unreal,” Schultz said. “Just coming in here as a freshman, no one expected us to get this far. And now we're going to the semistate.”
Earlier, at No. 1 doubles, the Slicers' Carson Stalbaum and Tristen Poe easily downed Max Blumentritt and Riley Mandell 6-1, 6-2. That pulled La Porte within 2-1 after it dropped the No. 1 and No. 2 singles' matches. But Alex Ake prevailed at No. 3 singles over Davis Borders, 6-1, 6-3. That tied the overall contest, 2-2, and set the stage for the thrilling finish at No. 2 doubles.
That's where Wolf and Schultz thrived.
“No one thought we were going to win, so we just went in there and gave it full heart,” Wolf said. "In order to win, we knew we'd all have to put our all into it."
Wolf and Schultz took slight control at the outset.
They built a 2-1 cushion in the first set, then nursed that advantage en route to the 6-4, opening-set decision.
"We just had to forget all the bad points and focus on all the good," Wolf added. "And know we can win it. Our team needs us."
At the same time, Schultz said their objective was to extend points.
"Our goal is to just get the ball at the net and keep them playing until we get a short ball at the net, then put it away from there," Schultz said. "Once we get a ball, we can't miss that at the net."
Varda noticed the momentum they built was pretty incredible.
“It was confidence,” he said. “It was Brock playing like a senior. It was Liam playing the way he's capable of playing. Liam's one of the most talented players in this area by far. That kid has so much tennis in him it's off the charts. They are hitting the ball and playing better than they ever have.”
The Slicers' other doubles' position, Stalbaum and Poe, gave their No. 2 doubles duo a chance to close out the match with their earlier, straight-set victory. They cruised ahead 5-0 in the opening set and lost a mere three games the entire night.
“They're the freight train engine of this team,” Varda said of Stalbaum and Poe. “They're the big diesel engine that pulls this team. They exude so much energy and so much confidence. And they're both great players and they're both great kids. They set the pace.”
Ake followed by downing his opponent at No. 3 singles to knot the team score, 2-2.
“He hits such a hard ball,” Varda said. “He's such a great player and he came out and went after the guy. He had no fear. He's undefeated at No. 3 singles.”
La Porte’s Andy Emmons lost 6-0, 6-0 to Daniel Pries at No. 1 singles, while at No. 2 singles, Graham Siefker dropped a 6-2, 6-0 contest to Kyle Fernandez.
The Slicers face three-time defending state-champion Carmel in the Culver Academies Semistate on Saturday. The Greyhounds beat West Lafayette 5-0 in Wednesday’s Kokomo Regional final.
"It's a great opportunity for La Porte to play the best," Varda said. "We're going to play the best team in the state and I love it. I welcome it."
In the individual state tournament, New Prairie’s No. 1 singles player, sophomore Nick Boyd, went the distance but fell in three sets to Chesterton's Luke Liapes, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, at the LeRoy Courts.
“I did really well,” Boyd said. “He beat me pretty handily last year, so I knew I needed to go in with no expectations, no pressure, and just swing away. I played really, really well.”
Despite the loss, Boyd claimed the opening set and earned 16 wins on the campaign.
He recognized this type of experience and playing this caliber of opponent will aid him well down the road.
“I really just want to continue to build,” Boyd added. “Keep looking toward the future and keep trying to improve and get better and do better next year.”
La Porte Regional
La Porte 3, S.B. St. Joseph 2