The dominant boys tennis team south of Springfield for more than a decade, the Edwardsville Tigers enter the start of the IHSA State Tennis Tournament on Thursday playing as well as any team in the state.
And after winning their 16th straight Southwestern Conference and sectional titles the last two weeks, the Tigers are full of confidence according to longtime coach Dave Lipe.
“Our kids feel confident right now. We are looking forward to competing well,” Lipe said. “We know the competition will be stiff, and there will be many potential distractions; we will do our best to stay focused and enjoy the tournament.”
Led by a top-four seed in doubles in Alex Gray and Zach Trimpe, the Tigers will begin their quest for a fourth top-10 finish in the past five years when they lead a strong group of players into early round matches on Thursday at various sites throughout the Chicago area.
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Three full rounds of competition highlight the first day of play as the top netmen in the state put their skills on the line.
Trimpe, who is also the top singles player in the Southwestern Conference after edging Max Skaer, of Belleville East, in a three-set marathon two weeks ago, will join forces with Gray as they lead the local contingent as a top-four seed in doubles.
Also one of the top high school golfers in the area, Trimpe said he and Gray hope to carry on the Tigers’ tradition this weekend.
“We’re carrying on a tradition and since our past Tigers have done so well, we feel like we have a lot to live up to, Trimpe said after winning the SWC singles crown.”
But Trimpe and Gray aren’t the only players who will need to have big weekends if Edwardsville is to contend for a top-10 finish.
Sectional singles champion Erik Weiler and runner-up Luke Motley must also win a match or two in the winners bracket and then go deep in the consolation bracket, while freshman Seth Lipe and senior Carson Ware are the Tigers’ second option in doubles.
The best of the rest
Mascoutah sophomore Andy Graf headlines a list of top singles players who earned top-32 seeds for the state finals. Graf, who won three of five matches as a freshman a year ago, is the champion of the rugged Mississippi Valley Conference and he also defeated Belleville East freshman Max Skaer a week ago for the singles championship at the Belleville East Sectional.
Skaer, who was also the runner-up in the SWC Tournament, joins Graf and O’Fallon sophomore Dominic Macaluso as top-32 seeds.
Macaluso won the singles title at the Triad Sectional and will be making his second trip to the state tournament.
Also earning a 17 through 32nd seed were the Belleville West doubles tandem of Derek Henke and Drew Boyles. One of the state’s top teams for the past two years, Henke and Boyles won the Belleville East Sectional title last week beating teammates Ian Burger and Nick Harry in the final.
Harry and Burger will also be playing in the state finals. Maroons coach Andy Brunner said he has very high hopes for both teams.
“I am excited to see how they will do at state this year, since they all have been there before,” Brunner said. “They now realize the focus and intensity it takes to win at the best high school tournament in the state. I think both or our teams have the potential to win front-draw matches and compete with teams at a high level.”
Other state athletes
The Southern Illinois area also has several other players capable of making it through the first day of competition at the double-elimination tournament.
In singles, Althoff junior Donovan McKnight is one of the most improved players in the metro-east and seems to near the top of his game while Belleville East sophomore Christian Cowulich has been one of the top No. 2 players in the area behind Skaer.
Other doubles teams to watch include Austin Klug and Josh Thomas, of Belleville East; Riley Muren and Shree Patel, of O’Fallon; and Ryan Froidcouer and Levi Triplo, of Triad.