EDWARDSVILLE — The latest in a long line of top doubles combinations which have honed their skills at the Edwardsville High School Tennis Complex, Logan Ware and Jack Desse had big shoes to fill entering the 2013 season.
They were the shoes of Justin Leskera and Cameron Randall, whose fourth-place finish in doubles in the 2012 state finals helped Edwardsville finish ninth in the team competition.
Maybe from themselves.
But not from Edwardsville coach David Lipe, whose Tigers program is clearly one of the best in the state.
"At times, there is pressure playing here, but coach Lipe just reminds us to be who we are,'' Ware said. "The Edwardsville High program is about being humble and doing what we do in order to be successful.''
Successful is exactly what Tigers juniors Desse and Ware were this spring.
Southwestern Conference and Alton Sectional champions, Ware and Desse finished with a 31-6 record and won four of six matches at the state tournament, leading Edwardsville to a sixth-place finish.
For that accomplishment, Desse and Ware have been named as the Belleville News-Democrat Players of the Year.
The achievement is even more impressive when considering that Desse and Ware had never played doubles together until this season.
"We went to middle school different places and so we had never played together before this year,'' Desse said. "To have the kind of success we had was a surprise.
"We just clicked. Our first match of the season we played against a team, which also ended up being a 9-16 seed (at state), and took them to a third-set tiebreaker. That gave us a boost and made me think that we could have a lot of success.''
The success enjoyed by Desse and Ware should serve as motivation for next season. The Tigers' top duo are spending the summer traveling throughout the St. Louis-area playing in USTA events and tournaments on the Missouri Valley Tennis Circuit.
"Basically, we're playing a lot of tennis and a lot of tournaments,'' Ware said. "When I'm not playing, I'm at the YMCA working out. For fun, I'm either in a swimming pool or just relaxing.
"But we're both looking forward to next season. We're spending a lot of time on the tennis court to get ready.''
Like most state-caliber combinations, Desse and Ware have styles of play which mesh well.
Along with being comfortable at the net, they also have the ability to hit winners from all over the court.
And in Ware's arsenal is a tough left-handed serve.
"I personally like his (Ware's) lefty serve. Nobody else likes it, especially our opponents, because it takes a while to figure it out,'' Desse said. "He can also serve-and-volley and he's got great hands at the net.
Ware also agreed that his left-handed serve is an advantage.
"I think it is and I think it's an advantage for Jack too, because he gets to practice against it,'' Ware said. "Sometimes my serve will slice and other times it will kick.''
Ware and Desse also know how fortunate they are to play for a premier programs, under one of the state's top coaches in Lipe.
Edwardsville plays in many of the top high school tournaments in Illinois and Missouri during the season in an effort to get its players the best competition heading into the state tournament series.
"It's an advantage in that we are playing some of the best players in the state. That type of competition gets you ready for state,'' Desse said. "I think the main difference in the top players in Chicago as opposed to down here has a a lot to do with shot selection and consistency.
"The top players up there seem to know what shots to hit in different situations more than we do. It's more routine for them. But we are getting better.''
Better is what Desse and Ware became in 2013, according to Lipe who saw his top doubles players continue to improve as the season went on.
"As a doubles team, Jack and Logan made steady progress throughout the year. They finished a long way from where they started,'' Lipe said. "Hopefully they will continue to develop throughout the next year.''.
After breezing through the Alton Sectional, Desse and Ware advanced through their first three rounds at state to reach the final 16.
"I had never been to state and so I was a little nervous,'' Ware said. "I thought we played great the first three matches. We won all of them in straight sets and had lot of momentum going into the round of 16.
"We were playing with confidence.''
However against Jeremy Dixon and Graham Lehman of Oak Park-River Forest, Ware and Desse's good fortune ran out as they fell 6-4, 6-3.
"It was a match of one or two breaks of serve,'' Desse said. "I remember we were up 40-0 on their serve one game and a couple missed chances by us and a couple of winners by them and they won the game. We had some chances.''
Desse and Ware won their first consolation match, then saw their season end with a tough three-set loss