Marmion Academy entered Monday's nonconference tennis clash at Batavia High School boasting one of the state's longest winning streaks. The Cadets had won 36 consecutive dual meets dating back to May 7, 2011. Their last defeat was a 4-3 Batavia victory on the Bulldogs' home courts.
In the words of Yogi Berra, it was déjà vu all over again Monday night.
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Marmion's spectacular three-year run came to a close in a 4-3 loss in Batavia, of all places. The Cadets still were able to leave BHS with their heads held high and their other goals intact. Marmion owns a 6-1 season record, a 4-0 mark and sole possession of first place in the Suburban Christian Conference and a shot at its sixth consecutive conference championship coming up next month.
"It's disappointing to see the streak end," said coach John Tsang, whose squad compiled 15-0 records in 2012 and 2013. "We just didn't execute in doubles today. I give credit to Batavia. They were solid, and we gave away some points that we shouldn't have."
Batavia (12-2, 1-0 Upstate Eight River Division) relied on one of the deepest doubles lineups in the western suburbs to end the area's most impressive winning streak. The Bulldogs swept Monday's four doubles matches, each in straight sets. Marmion won all three singles matches, including a back-and-forth 6-3, 3-6, 6-2 victory by John King over Tim Murat at first singles. But Batavia's doubles depth proved too much to overcome. The Bulldogs' four doubles duos own a combined 53-5 season record.
"We got everybody back from last year's team but totally revamped our doubles lineups this year," Batavia coach Brad Nelson said of his decision to adjust the Bulldogs' doubles lineups for this season, even though his squad returned every starter from the 2013 Upstate Eight River Division champions. "Things are coming together nicely. The new doubles teams, the players' games complement one another well. Some of the guys offer strong serving, some have power, some bring consistency and volleying. They're fitting together nicely."
Senior Ryan Sterling and junior Adam Maris (15-2 record) gave Batavia the early lead over Marmion with a 6-3, 6-2 first doubles victory over seniors Ricky Angstin and Kevin Hoss. Senior Jeff Lorden and junior Josh Boyle (16-1) defeated sophomore Luke Hoss and junior Ben Touhy 6-3, 6-2 at second doubles. Sophomores Emerson Hinzy and Andrew Nelson (16-1) beat seniors Ben Vertin and Cameron Sweeney 6-2, 6-2 at third doubles, and junior Gunnar Malm and sophomore Nick Robinson (6-1) prevailed 6-4, 6-2 at fourth doubles over juniors Dominic Barone and Sharbel Ramanos.
Of Batavia's doubles teams, Hinzy and Nelson's season-long play has best typified the Bulldogs' consistency. As freshmen, Nelson won the second doubles title and Hinzy earned the fourth doubles crown at last year's conference meet before joining forces to make a smooth transition as a new all-sophomore doubles squad this spring. The duo suffered its only loss this season at the Maine South Invitational April 19.
"We each bring different strengths to the court," Nelson said. "Emerson is a better volleyer, we both have pretty good serves, I cover the baseline but we're both good on groundstrokes, and we can both put volleys away."
Marmion kept within striking range of Batavia by sweeping the three singles matches. King, a state meet qualifier as a freshman, improved his season record to 11-2 with his win over Murat, who still sports one of the area's top singles records at 12-4. King broke Murat's serve twice en route to winning the first set, then saw Murat break his serve three times in the second set before bouncing back with a dominant third set victory. The match lasted nearly two hours as Murat and King showed off their polished groundstrokes in numerous long rallies from the baseline.
"In the first set, I was able to hit in front of the ball and dictate the points," King said. "In the second set, he was more consistent and did a good job of controlling the action. In the third set I got back to stepping into my shots instead of hitting the ball off my back foot and hitting it short. It was a good match."
Besides King's victory, senior John Graft defeated sophomore Drake Swift 6-1, 6-0 at second singles, and junior Dave Demoll beat junior James Carr 6-1, 6-0 at third singles.
Marmion provided Batavia with a timely tuneup for its Upstate Eight River showdown with St. Charles East on Tuesday in Batavia. The Bulldogs expect East and St. Charles North to be the biggest hurdles they need to clear as they pursue their third conference title in a row.
"North and East are going to be good tests for us," said Andrew Nelson, referring to Tuesday's dual with East and a May 8 matchup with North. "Those two teams will be our toughest competition in the conference. Fortunately our team has a lot of experience back from last year, and everyone's improved their game from last year. It'll be a good challenge for us."
Returning its entire lineup from 2013 has also benefited Batavia's team unity and camaraderie. Nelson said the Bulldogs are a close-knit unit that supports each other on and off the court. The team even has served its community by making two trips this spring to Alice Gustafson School's early childhood center to read to and play with special-needs students and preschoolers.
"Having been all together for a year now, we know each other a lot better than we did last year. We've become pretty close," Andrew Nelson said. "We have a lot of fun together on bus rides to matches, we've hung out together off the court at places like The Hub at Christ Community Church and Pal Joey's, and we all support each other on the court. We all work on our games a lot in the summer, too. We had fun at the early childhood center playing with the kids and working with them. It's been a lot of fun."