May 14—OTTUMWA — The fifth match of the week for Toby Schmidt actually was played in the most ideal conditions of the week.
Of course, even a day that was only slightly warm took its toll on the Ottumwa sophomore. Four matches in the span of two days with conference and district titles on the line in hot, humid, windy conditions will take it out of even the best tennis players in the world.
Schmidt rose to the occasion, however, winning a match with Tyce Bertloshofer that lasted almost as long as the entire Class 2A substate preliminary dual between the Bulldogs and Burlington on Friday at Jon Kneen Courts. After splitting the first two sets of the top singles match, Schmidt and Bertloshofer pushed each other into a decisive tiebreaker with an even split of the 12 regulation games in third set.
Finally, on the 12th point of the 32nd game of his fifth match this week, Schmidt got what he needed as Bertloshofer hit a return wide down the line seeking to extend the tiebreaker. Instead, Schmidt walked off with a 6-3, 4-6, 7-6 (7-5) win that all but cemented a 5-0 substate victory for the Bulldogs over the Grayhounds.
"I'm going to remember this week for quite a while," Schmidt said after securing his fourth win of the week. "It was a very week for me."
The busy week for Schmidt began on Monday at the Class 2A district singles tournament. Seeded second in the tournament, Schmidt took down Bertloshofer's teammate Rich Bliesener in the district quarterfinals before clinching his first trip to the Iowa High School State Tennis Tournament with a district semifinal win over third-seeded Muscatine junior Sam Emmert becoming the first Ottumwa state tennis qualifier since Zach Ray, who finished sixth in the 2A state singles tournament six years ago.
"I'm really looking forward to it," Schmidt said about his first trip to state, which will take place May 24-25 in Cedar Rapids. "I know I'll be facing a district champion, so I know I'll be pitted against a very good player. I'm just looking to play the best tennis I can. If I lose, there's nothing I can do about it, so my goal is to go up there and play well."
While Schmidt and Bertloshofer were battling it out over two-plus hours in the top singles match, the rest of the Bulldogs were taking care of business in a rematch of a 5-1 win by Ottumwa over a short-handed Burlington squad in last year's substate preliminary round. While the Greyhounds had a complete team on hand Friday, Ottumwa had the better team as Trey Hull set the tone for the day sweeping Hunter Ford 6-4 and 6-1, putting the first match in the win column for the Bulldogs.
Jarrett Wellings put the second win on the board for the Bulldogs, bouncing back after dropping a 6-3 opening set to Mason Rachowitz. With the Burlington senior working through an apparent hand injury in the final two sets, Wellings stormed back sweeping Rachowitz 6-0 in the second set before clinching the win with a 6-2 win in the decisive third set.
Schmidt and Bertloshofer kept on battling, even as Quintin Hull and Logan Storto were taking command of their singles matches for Ottumwa. With Jack Carlson and Owen Fawcett showing resiliency in competitive second sets, however, the Greyhounds had an opening to get back into the dual had Bertloshofer been able to finish off a comeback win of his own in the third set.
Instead, Schmidt's win all but put the dual out of reach. Less than 30 minutes later, Hull and Storto clinched their own wins in singles play locking up Ottumwa's eighth dual win of the year.
"That was a great battle for Toby and one that could have made this a much different dual," Ottumwa head boys tennis coach Joe Roberts said. "Toby played a heck of a match. So did Tyce. It was a phenomenal match. I could only push Toby so far before the heat started getting to him this week. With the 25-mile-an-hour winds at districts and 90-plus degree heat both Monday and Tuesday, it was brutal for these players.
"I stressed to these guys to stay hydrated. I hope they recovered as best as they could. We should be good to go on Wednesday."
Wednesday will be a tough test for the Bulldogs (8-4) as Ottumwa makes the trip to Muscatine looking to win two duals to earn a spot in the Class 2A state dual tournament semifinals. Next up for OHS will be a substate semifinal with second-ranked Pleasant Valley at 8:30 a.m.
"We have to come in thinking we're going to make them battle for every single point. We have to make them battle for every single point, or we won't stand a chance," Roberts said. "Pleasant Valley is ranked. We got close to being ranked this year with the way we've played. We have to come in with the mentality that we are going to make them sweat as much as we can, get to every single ball and compete for every single point."
— Scott Jackson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter@CourierScott.