BY JOSH SIGLER KOKOMO TRIBUNE
---- — Dave Wise’s 39th season as the head coach of Taylor’s boys tennis team has been one to remember.
The Titans finished the regular season 12-3, sharing the Mid-Indiana Conference title with Hamilton Heights. Wise went over the 400-win mark for his career last week in 5-0 win over Cass, a victory that clinched the MIC share. Needless to say, the season has been full of happy moments for the Center crew.
“The thing that’s special about this year is I don’t think anybody expected us to be that good,” Wise said. “We lost three really strong seniors from last year’s team who were three of our top four players and three- or four-year lettermen. Obviously we knew Jack [Lipchik] would be good at No. 1 singles. But, the other guys were kind of untested. So, it made for an enjoyable season.”
Wise has been at it for a long time, and as sectional time hits each year, he’s reminded of another stat. He’s coached 17 teams that won 12 or more matches in the regular season and did not go on to win a sectional championship. The Titans enter today’s Kokomo Sectional seeking their first sectional crown since 1981, when they defeated Kokomo, Noblesville and Frankfort on their way to outlasting a 12-team field.
“I never feel like anyone but Kokomo is the favorite in the sectional,” Wise said. “Their depth, their strength of schedule and the number of kids they have to choose from make it tougher for a smaller school, but I like our chances. I think we’ll be very competitive if we can get past Northwestern. We don’t want to overlook Tipton, we’re taking them first, but we’re thinking Northwestern is always a good rivalry and a good county matchup. That’s a match we’re looking forward to if we get there. It’s not inconceivable that they could slip up and beat us. Eastern, Western and Northwestern are all dangerous, and it’s not always to your advantage that you beat them in the regular season.”
The Titans kick off sectional play today against the Blue Devils, a team Taylor defeated 4-1 in its regular season opener. The winner of that match will face Northwestern in Thursday’s semifinals. The Titans also defeated Northwestern (4-13) by a 4-1 tally during the season.
Lipchik and the Titans’ No. 1 doubles team of Austin Douglas and Cole Schroeder are both 16-2 entering the postseason, while Camden Kimbler holds a 13-2 record at No. 2 singles.
On the other side of the bracket, county rivals Eastern (9-11) and Western (8-7) will meet up again. The Panthers took the regular season matchup, 3-2.
The Panthers have been led by No. 1 singles player Judson Quinn and the No. 2 doubles team of Kaleb Howard and Luke Florek this season. Howard and Florek are 15-2 together on the year. Quinn enters postseason play with a 16-1 mark, and split his two regular season matchups with Lipchik.
“We have to play well, that’s the most important thing,” Western coach Andrew Miller said. “Just because we beat them last time doesn’t mean we can expect it to be a walk in the park. In the regular season it was an extremely close match with two three-set matches and another match that was close. ... I think it’s going to be a battle. We have been battling a little sickness this week, so I hope we can come out healthy and play well. This will be the first sectional match for six of our players, so experience is not going to be on our side. Hopefully we can come ready to play and can keep our heads and stay calm.”
Eastern will have a different look than when the teams met in the regular season. Coach Nick Sale has paired Riley Hauper with Daniel Pugh at No. 2 doubles, and the duo is off to a 4-0 start in their short time together.
“I think it’s going to be close,” Sale said of the Western rematch. “Our guys are excited about it. One thing we have going for us here late in the season is our experience. We have a lot of seniors out there fighting to keep the next match from being their last. We’re going in with a new No. 2 doubles team that’s one a little winning streak. If we go out and play well anything can happen, so this is an exciting time for us.”
Kokomo (6-12) awaits the Eastern-Western winner in Thursday’s semifinals. Northwestern is the only sectional opponent the Wildkats have faced this season, topping the Tigers 4-1.
“I think there’s a lot of teams that, in different situations, can make a lot of different things happen,” Kokomo coach Shawn Flanary said. “On paper, Taylor is strong. They shared the MIC title and have a great record. Of the players returning from last year’s sectional final, I think they have four returning starters and we only return one. Taylor looks like the team to beat, in my opinion. On our side, Eastern and Western present challenges. They are both solid, and have had different spots this year that have been strong and had a lot of success. If they play well, either team is very capable of beating us. We have to be prepared for either of those teams.”
The Kats are seeking their third straight sectional championship, having defeated Taylor in the championship round both times. Kokomo has a much different look this time around, with No. 1 singles player Craig Simon as the only returner from the 2012 squad that defeated the Titans 4-1 on last season’s in the title round.
“We have to play our best tennis,” Flanary said. “We definitely had a [tough] schedule in terms of depth and quality, probably as deep as it’s ever been. Hopefully that’s helped sharpen us. Our team has progressed a lot this season. Six guys are new to us in terms of playing in the postseason, and we’re anxious to see how we perform in the moment. But, our guys are excited and looking forward to it.”
Kokomo Tennis Sectional First Round Today, 4 p.m. Eastern (9-11) vs. Western (8-7) Taylor (12-3) vs. Tipton Semifinals Thursday, 4 p.m. Kokomo (6-12) vs. Eastern-Western winner Northwestern (4-13) vs. Taylor-Tipton winner Finals Friday, 4 p.m. Semifinal winners