Le Mars boys tennis captures state qualifying banner, falls in quarterfinals
DENISON — The Le Mars boys tennis team accomplished something they’ve been pretty good at doing over the last few years and that is make the state tournament. Following a hard-fought 5-4 win over Denison-Schleswig on Saturday, the Bulldogs captured another state qualifying banner, their 11th overall and the fifth in the last six seasons of competition.
“Saturday was quite the day of tennis,” Le Mars Head Coach Alex Struck said after a long day which included not only the substate but first round of state.
It was a fierce battle in the substate round as both teams captured three singles wins and it came down to the doubles matches to decide a winner, possibly not a surprise considering how close the teams were in the rankings with the Monarchs No. 8 in 1A and the Bulldogs No. 10.
In singles, Colin Reis won the No. 1 singles match for the Monarchs by a 6-2, 6-3 score over Kaden Wingert.
Le Mars took the next two singles matches in closely contested sets. The No. 2 match was a 6-4, 7-5 win for Matt Ahlers over Harrison Dahm.
“Matt Ahlers played his best match of the season picking up a win at number two singles over an excellent Denison opponent,” Struck said. “Matt showed tremendous growth since our match against Storm Lake last Saturday. He did some reflecting on his game, identified areas to zone in on, and then put in a lot of time and hard work over the last week. He stepped up for our team.”
At No. 3, Michael Meis dropped the first set 6-2, but came back to win the second 7-5. In the decisive third, he finished off Adalfo Vargas by a 6-0 score.
“Michael Meis also played his best match of the season against Denison at the varsity three position, coming back down a set and down 1-4 in the second set,” Struck said. “He flipped a switch and found another level to his game and mental fortitude. He won 12 of the final 13 games. As a sophomore, this is his first season playing varsity tennis due to the canceled season last year, and today, he showed poise and maturity that not many sophomores possess.”
The Monarchs evened things up with their No. 4 as Carson Seuntjens won two of the three sets over Jaxon Baumgartner, all three of which ended with 6-2 scores.
Le Mars got the win at No. 5 as Ryan Brown had one of the easiest matches of the day, topping Isaac Leinen 6-0, 6-2.
Le Mars had a chance at a 4-2 advantage entering doubles with Kutter Wright going up with a 6-0 win in the first over Braden Curnyn, but the Monarch fought back to take the second 6-3 and eventually won the third by the same score.
“Kutter Wright played our varsity six spot today for the first time all year,” Struck said. “He suffered a tough three-set loss. I’m incredibly proud of how he played after everything he has been through this year. He had a serious injury in the winter months playing hockey, and he wasn’t sure he’d be able to play at all this year. He faced some setbacks in his recovery process, but kept battling through it all with a positive mindset to ultimately put himself in this position.”
Le Mars had their backs against the wall after Reis and Dahm won a 6-0, 6-3, doubles match over Ahlers and Meis, but Le Mars wasn’t done quite yet. Wingert and Kade Calhoun picked up a 6-4, 6-1 win over Vargas and Seuntjens while Baumgartner and Brown finished off the victory by taking down Leinen and Wyatt Johnson 6-3, 6-1.
“Kaden Wingert and Kade Calhoun picked up a massive win at number two doubles 6-4, 6-1. Wingert responded in a great way after a tough singles loss,” Struck said. “Jaxon Baumgartner and Ryan Brown took care of business at three doubles winning 6-3, 6-1. This was the last match going against Denison, teams tied 4-4, so all eyes were on these two. I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way - they are always calm, cool, and collected. They’ve been a pairing that I can count on every meet in doubles.”
After a short rest, the team began their state tournament by facing rival Spencer, the only team to beat them in a regular season meet in what was a 6-3 final.
The Tigers had beaten Kuemper Catholic earlier in the day in their substate match by a 5-2 score.
The state quarterfinal match played out similarly to the substate battle for the Bulldogs with each team earning three singles wins. However, the No. 7 rated Tigers prevailed by a 5-4 score by winning two of the three doubles matches.
The Bulldogs took the top three singles matches, but dropped the bottom three. Earning the first win was Wingert at No. 1 by a 6-1, 6-0 score over Charlie Steele. Ahlers claimed the No. 2 spot with a 6-2, 6-4 victory over Sam Feldmann while Michael Meis won by identical scores over Jackson Dewitt.
“Kaden Wingert picked up his 17th singles win of the year and Ahlers and Meis both continued to play their best tennis of the year, picking up wins in singles,” Struck said. “Both Ahlers and Meis lost to Spencer the first time around. I’m so proud of these two and how they performed.”
Two of the three losses went to a third set. At No. 4, Baumgartner dropped the first set 6-1, but fought back for a 7-5 win in the second. His opponent, Landon Ellis, got the decisive third set by a 6-2 score.
Brown won the first set 6-3 over his opponent Riley DeWitt before dropping one by the same score. DeWitt pulled away for a 6-1 win in the third.
“They both had some of the longest rallies I’d seen all year,” Struck said. “Jaxon was down 2-3 in the second set on serve when he started having serious cramping. He fought through the cramping the rest of the match. Brown finishes the year 11-2 in singles while Jaxon finishes the year 10-3 in singles.”
Wright dropped his match 6-0, 6-1 to Owen Kierscht at No. 6.
All of the doubles matches were tight.
Le Mars got their only win at No. 3 as Baumgartner and Brown won 6-2 and 7-6 with a 7-3 tiebreaker.
At No. 1, Ahlers and Meis played Steele and Feldmann with each side earning a 7-5 win. In the third set, the Spencer duo outlasted their opponent in a marathon of a match, winning the third set 7-6 with an 8-6 tiebreaker.
Wingert and Calhoun won the first set of their doubles match 6-2 before losing the next two by matching 6-4 scores to DeWitt and Ellis.
“My heart breaks for our guys, as they gave it everything they had today,” Struck said. “A loss like this stings. The Spencer dual was almost five hours long, in muggy, hot weather, and after playing a long dual against Denison in the morning. Getting this close to being one of the final four teams playing tennis is a testament to the work this team put in starting on March 16. While we fell just short of our final four goal, I couldn’t be any more proud of the guys in this program.”
Le Mars finishes their season at 12-2 with both losses coming to Spencer who advances to the state semifinal round.
While Wingert, Baumgartner, Brown and Wright graduate, the future still looks bright for the Bulldogs as they will still return some varsity experience and will call upon a JV group which went undefeated this spring to complete next year’s roster.