Sep. 26—MIDDLEBURY — It was anything but a normal Northern Lakes Conference boys tennis tournament this week.
Non-stop rain forced Wednesday's opening round and Thursday's second day indoors to Culver Academy, with only 28 of the scheduled 40 matches finishing. That meant that 32 matches were left to be decided entering the final day of the tournament Saturday.
Then, a late Friday/early Saturday morning rain shower caused the courts at Northridge High School to be wet by the scheduled 9:00 a.m. Saturday start time, delaying the start of the finals by nearly two hours.
Once the squeegees soaked up all the water and the courts were ready to go, it turned into a beautiful day for tennis. And when that day ended, the NLC had co-champions.
After Goshen went 7-0 in the regular season portion of conference play, Northridge claimed a share of the NLC crown by winning the tournament. The Raiders had first place finishes at No. 1 singles and No. 1 doubles, second place finishes at No. 2 singles and No. 3 singles and a third-place finish at No. 2 doubles to bring home the tournament title.
"I was really happy with how we played in the tournament," Northridge coach Austin Christner said. "It wasn't an easy week. It was a long week for the boys, traveling to Culver twice. But I thought we really, really stepped up and won some big matches to set us up to succeed (Saturday). We did enough (Saturday) to pull it out."
Under NLC rules, the regular season counts for half of the points that goes toward the final standings, with the conference tourney making up the other half. Since Goshen finished second in the tournament and Northridge second in the regular season, both teams scored 15 points toward the standings, thus making them co-NLC champions.
"Maybe a little bit of relief and some pride and happiness for the guys," said Goshen coach Daniel Love was his feelings after the tournament wrapped up. "It was an odd start. We didn't know how we were doing after day one because half the guys hadn't played, and after day two, we still had some players who hadn't played as much as some others. ... Yeah, we'd like to have (the conference title) without sharing it, but if we have to share it, we'll share it."
Northridge and Goshen squared off in all three singles finals Saturday, with the RedHawks needing to win all three to secure the outright title. They picked up victories at two of them, as junior Moses Sawatzky won in the No. 2 position and sophomore Isaac Stahly at the No. 3 spot. Sawatzky won by a score of 6-3, 7-6 (6-4 tiebreaker), with Stahly winning in three sets, 5-7, 6-3, 6-3.
"I was really proud of them," said Love of Sawatzky and Stahly. "They played really tough opponents, for sure."
All eyes then turned to the No. 1 singles final, where Raiders junior Brendan LaCounte put on a strong performance to clinch the tournament win for his team. He was able to beat Goshen's Pi Wellington, 6-2, 6-3, for the victory.
"Brendan's been one of our rocks in our lineup all year," Christner said. "He's been lights out for us. Just a gamer, a competitor and somebody you know that's going to give his best effort for every single point. He's a great leader in that way."
The last match to be decided Saturday was at No. 1 doubles between the Northridge senior duo of Evan Nay and Collin Seegert against the recently-formed pairing of Wawasee seniors Holden Babb and Grant Brooks. After the Wawasee tandem won the first set 6-4 and took a lead late in the second, Nay and Seegert rallied to force a tiebreak. The Northridge seniors then won that tiebreak, 6-3, and carried that momentum into a 6-2 win in the third set to seal the win.
Because of the weather delays, all doubles pairs had to play in two matches Saturday.
"The conference this year at 1-doubles was very deep," Christner said. "I would say that we had very good doubles teams just in general, all across the conference. To have to play two (matches) in the same day was definitely a challenge, but they rose to the occasion and pulled them out."
The other individual winner came from Concord, as the No. 2 doubles pairing of senior Sam West and sophomore Andrew Kavanaugh won in three sets, 6-4, 6-7 (4-6), 6-0 over the Warsaw duo of Mason and Zak Martin. The win allowed the Minutemen to finish third in the final NLC standings, which is where they were when they entered the tournament as well.
All focus now shifts toward the postseason, as sectionals begin Wednesday across the state. The tournament brackets will be released Monday at 7:00 p.m. on the IHSAA website.
Goshen was a sectional champion in 2020 is looking to win consecutive sectionals for the first time since they rattled off seven-straight from 1992-98. They are in a sectional with Fairfield, NorthWood and Bethany Christian that will be played at NorthWood on Wednesday and Thursday.
Northridge, which was ranked No. 30 in the latest IHSTECA poll, is seeking its second sectional title in three years. They will look to knock off defending sectional champion Concord, who are also joined by Elkhart and Jimtown in the Concord sectional that will be played Wednesday and Thursday.
2021 NLC BOYS TENNIS TOURNAMENT — results
No. 1 singles: Brendan LaCounte (NR) def. Pi Wellington (G), 6-2, 6-3
No. 2 singles: Moses Sawatzky (G) def. Brandon Lomas (NR), 6-3, 7-6 (6-4)
No. 3 singles: Isaac Stahly (G) def. Kaleb Ellis (NR), 5-7, 6-3, 6-3
No. 1 doubles: Evan Nay/Collin Seegert (NR) def. Holden Babb/Grant Brooks (Wawa), 4-6, 7-6 (6-3), 6-2
No. 2 doubles: Sam West/Andrew Kavanaugh (Con) def. Mason Martin/Zak Martin (War), 6-4, 6-7 (4-6), 6-0
All-NLC team: All individual winners, along with Pi Wellington (G), Nathan Schraw (Con) and Jacob Dixon (Mishawaka) selected by the coaches
All-NLC honorable mentions: Tristan Anderson (War), Brandon Lomas (NR), Mitchell Whitehead (Con), Brady Chupp/Chaz Yoder (NW), Holden Babb/Grant Brooks (Wawa), Bennett Christy/Matt Manzuk (Plymouth)
NLC coach of the year: Daniel Love, Goshen
Final NLC standings: T-1. Goshen, T-1. Northridge, 3. Concord, 4. Warsaw, 5. Wawasee, 6. Plymouth, 7. NorthWood, 8. Mishawaka
Austin Hough can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 574-538-2360. Follow him on Twitter at @AustinHoughTGN.