As relative unknowns with no pressure holding them back, the Edwardsville High School doubles team of Zach Trimpe and Alex Gray surged to a surprise fourth-place finish at the IHSA Boys State Tennis Tournament in 2016.
Heading into the 2017 state finals, Gray and Trimpe were impossible to ignore.
They won tournaments throughout the state, reaching the the finals of the exclusive Pitchford 32 Tournament in Chicago in late April and losing just one match all season. By the time they arrived in Arlington Heights for the first Class AA state tennis tournament, they were top seeds with a huge target on their backs.
“Being the No. 1 seed is nice but it didn’t mean that much. It does put a target on your back,” Gray said. “You know that every time you step on the court, that you are going to be playing a team with two seniors who might be playing the final matches of their careers. In their minds there is nothing more epic than ending their careers by beating the top seed in state.”
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In 2017, nobody beat Trimpe and Gray at the state finals. With a 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 win over Trevor Hamilton and Andrew Buhelos of Hinsdale Central in their final match, Trimpe and Gray became just the third doubles team from southern Illinois and the first since 1928 to win the boys IHSA state doubles championship.
Ted Eggman and Mac Smith of East St. Louis won the doubles title in 1923 and a combination from Greenville won it five years later in 1928.
“Honestly, it took about month to sink it that we had won it. Its unbelievable and is really hard to describe the feeling,” Trimpe said this week. “Alex and I have been great friends for about five years and we’ve been playing doubles for about that long as well. To accomplish something that you have worked so hard for all your life, that’s an amazing feeling.”
As a doubles team, Trimpe and Gray finished 31-1 this spring, with their only loss coming against the reigning state champions from Kentucky. Honored as the Belleville News-Democrat Players of the Year, Trimpe (47-4) and Gray (45-4) combined to win 92 of 100 singles matches this season.
We also pick each other up. If I’m not playing well, Zach will pick me up and I do the same when he’s off for a game or two. We both have the ability to elevate our games.
Gray, who will be entering his senior year in 2018 and Trimpe, an incoming junior, continue to work on their games during the summer. Both play national tournaments, traveling through the United States to find the best competition possible.
Through the guidance of Edwardsville coach Dave Lipe, the travel isn’t limited to just the off-season. Lipe takes his team to the most competitive tournaments in Illinois almost on a weekly basis during the high school season.
“Coach (Lipe) does a really good job of getting us to tournaments where we’re going to see the best players and teams in the state and then we see a lot of great players when they come down to compete in our tournament as well,” Trimpe said. “This year, I would say that we were nervous for out first couple of matches because were the favorites and the best team.
“But after the nerves wear off a little bit, there is a kind of comfort zone because we had played and seen a lot of the teams during the regular season that we saw at state.”
But in order to have success as a doubles team, you have to have team chemistry. Good friends both on and off the court, Gray and Trimpe have that.
To accomplish something that you have worked so hard for all your life, that’s an amazing feeling.
“We’ve played a lot of tennis and worked out together over the last five years,” Gray said. “I think that has really helped in that we know where each other is at all times on the tennis court,” Gray said. “You won’t hear one of us say ‘mine’ when a lobb goes up. We’re both good from the baseline and I think my big serve helps set him (Trimpe) up at the net.
“We also pick each other up. If I’m not playing well, Zach will pick me up and I do the same when he’s off for a game or two. We both have the ability to elevate our games.”
Trimpe and Gray needed to elevate their play in their quarterfinal match at the state finals against Bill Zhang and Martin Maton of Naperville Central. After splitting the first two sets, Gray and Trimpe trailed 5-3 in the third set. One game from ending their season, the Tigers duo rallied to win a third set tiebreaker to move into the semifinals.
“We picked each other up again. That was a situation we hadn’t been before and were able to come back and win,” Trimpe said. “That was a relief and then we came out the next day and beat a very good team 6-1, 6-1 in the semifinals. We played our best match of the season.”
But the match they will remember is when they became state champions.
“I remember I went to the ground then I went over and gave (Zach) a hug,” Gray said. “There were people from Edwardsville there but there were also a lot of players and fans from Belleville and O’Fallon there as well.
“One of the best things about it was when we got home there were were maybe 75-100 people there to welcome us.”
Bellevillle News-Democrat All-Area Tennis Team
Players of the Year
- Alex Gray, jr. and Zach Trimpe, soph., Edwardsville
Coach of the Year
- Dave Lipe, Edwardsville
First Team Singles
- Max Skaer, Belleville East, soph.
- Andy Graf, Mascoutah, jr.
- Eric Weiler, Edwardsville, sr.
- Donovan McKnight, Althoff, sr.
- Seth Lipe, Edwardsville, soph.
- Zach Harris, Mascoutah, sr.
- Nick Parsons, Triad, jr.
- Drake Schreiber, O’Fallon, soph.
- Niko Papachrisanthou, O’Fallon, soph
Second Team Singles
- Austin Quandt, Belleville West, Ethan Pickard, Belleville East; Adam Spihlman, O’Fallon; Cameron Cagas, Belleville East; Chase Holland, O’Fallon; Carter Roustio, Granite City; Ben Simonsky, Alton
First Team Doubles
- Alex Gray, jr. and Zach Trimpe, soph, Edwardsville
- Drew Boyles, sr. and Derek Henke, sr., Belleville West
- Christian Cowulich, jr. and Carter Baldus, jr., Belleville East
- Logan Purcell, jr. and Ben Bequette, sr., Edwardsville
Second Team Doubles
- Quincy Dollison and Matt Spradling, O’Fallon; Dylan Freidman and Jacob McQueen, Belleville East; Dylan Firestone and Andreew McCullough, Belleville West, Adam Kane and Theo Dochy, Alton; Ben Hunsinger and Will Henze, Collinville; Jon Claywell and Daniel McCluskey, Marquette; Sean Froidcouer and Brendan Grigg, Triad; Joe Segneri and AJ Bower, Marquette; Drake Blackwell and Trevor Davis, Jerseyville; Zach Rosenthal and Cameron Little, Triad