Boys tennis: Glenbard West takes 2nd as Hilltopper invite turns 40

The “board of honor” affixed to the fencing at the courts at Glenbard West shows the year 1933 as the first time two of its athletes were awarded medals at the state finals.

(It was the duo of Harry Hynd and Robert Rand, by the way, who were runners-up in doubles).

The Hilltopper Invite isn’t quite that old, but Saturday’s version in Glen Ellyn was the 40th annual, and it’s perennially been one of the more prestigious in the state.

So winning the No. 1 singles title is quite an accomplishment, and at this year’s meet, it was Sam Plys of Downers Grove South who took first place.

“This has been one of the better tournaments over the years,” said Hilltoppers coach Tad Keely. “You’re talking about players who will be top 16 in the singles draw (at state), and usually a couple of doubles teams who will be in the top 16 as well.

“This is my 10th year as head coach and it’s been running strong ever since I’ve been here.”

Plys, who is committed to play at Hillsdale College in Michigan after graduation where he’ll major in accounting, faced a tough test in the championship match.

He went up against Colton Hulme of Edwardsville, who defeated Plys last season.

But the senior was able to come out on top this year, holding off a strong rally down the stretch from Hulme to score a 6-1, 7-5 victory.

Hulme was down 5-2 in the second set but won three straight to make it 5-5.

At that point Plys turned on the afterburners to win the next two games and the crown.

“It was tough losing on a breaker to this guy last year,” he said. “He’s a very good player, and sometimes just the main thing is to stay mentally in it — knowing that all the years you’ve been training have given you the right tools to win.

“You’ve just got to persevere.”

It was also a lefty-lefty matchup, and that made it a little more difficult for southpaw Plys.

“Most of the time,” said Plys, “players train with certain patterns, to play against righties or players with different abilities.

“Since he (Hulme) was (also) a lefty, I had to change my patterns up a bit. He also had a better backhand than I thought he did, and that affected me.”

Mustangs coach Josh Forst stated that Plys is not only an outstanding player, he’s also a terrific mentor.

“He’s a great senior leader,” said Forst. “He’s the captain of our team, he loves tennis, and he’s always trying to get his teammates around him to improve.

“He’s that guy, when he’s at practice, is always pulling guys aside, doing the little things to help them. He’s a total team-first player. Sam has already been to state twice, finishing in the top 16 last year. We’re hoping he can improve on that this season, and he hasn’t lost a match yet.”

Edwardsville won the team race Saturday with 21 points, and their twosome outlasted Wheaton Warrenville South’s Santi Mosca and Caleb Watson to triumph in No. 1 doubles.

Host Glenbard West was second with 19, while Downers Grove South and WW South (14) tied for third.

In second singles, Nick Harding of Glenbard West won 0-6, 6-4, 1-0(8) over Brandon Wong of Edwardsville.

The Hilltoppers also grabbed the No. 2 doubles crown as Sean Clouse and James Gilbert triumphed over Sandburg.

Jordan Abbott of Glenbard South, who won two matches in first singles, was another one of the competitors who appreciated the tradition of the invite.

“This has always been my favorite tournament,” said Abbott, a junior. “It’s amazing. Historically I’ve always done pretty well, but this year was tough. A lot of good kids here.”

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