Sep. 23—ELWOOD — Normally, a tennis team with the number of seniors John Kelly's Elwood Panthers team has would be the one considered to have an advantage in terms of experience. But many of his seniors and juniors are first-time players, so the ages of the players are a little deceiving.
But the strength of his team is junior singles players Owen Hinchman and Beau Brandon, and the two won their matches handily Thursday at the Max Hoppel Tennis Complex and in short order to lead the Panthers to a 4-1 victory over Alexandria in the next-to-last regular season competition for both teams.
It was just the kind of win Kelly was hoping for as his team prepares for the postseason, which begins next Wednesday.
"The sectional this year, we're kind of positive about it," Kelly said. "We're starting to come into their own. We really are. The kids are starting to believe in themselves."
Hinchman spent a large amount of time over the summer playing in tournaments and preparing for his junior campaign. That work has paid off, including in his No. 1 singles match Thursday against James Ward. Hinchman took over after the first set was tied at 2-2, won the next four games and cruised in the second set for a 6-2, 6-3 win.
The biggest improvement in his game is in his confidence.
"Every time I hit the ball, I feel very confident in what I'm doing," he said. "Every thing I do, I do on purpose. If I'm down love-40, I still have three points to get back."
Kelly echoed the sentiment, adding Hinchman is enjoying his game, whether the shot he sends over the net works or not.
"His confidence is really starting to show through," Kelly said. "Many times he'll hit a stroke and, even when it isn't in, he turns to me and says, 'I still like it.'"
Brandon was just as efficient, although he had to battle through many long points, in posting a 6-2, 6-1 win over freshman Owen May at No. 2 singles.
Alexandria coach Matt DeVault expected his team to be at a disadvantage at the top two spots with Hinchman and Brandon the most experienced players on the court. May, he said, is a player with a bright future for the Tigers.
"I thought Owen played really well and hitting the ball at two singles," DeVault said. "I thought he played Brandon really well. Brandon is another seasoned player."
Senior Zane Henry — who played basketball for Kelly at Elwood and is now playing tennis for the first time — completed the singles sweep for the Panthers with a 6-2, 6-2 win over Alex senior Benjamin DeVault at No. 3 singles.
Two more Panthers basketball players combined to make the No. 1 doubles match one of the more entertaining of the night. Jayden Reese and Peterson Pan dropped the first set 6-3 to Jesse Lipps and Tanner Norris but used their athleticism to take control and win in three sets, scoring 6-1, 6-2 set wins in the process.
"That was probably the (best) feeling I had tonight," Kelly said. "You're talking about two kids that are basketball players that are really nice athletes."
The Tigers' lone point came at No. 2 doubles, where Jackson Kettery and Spencer Hiser defeated Elwood's Xavier Davenport and Will Seibel 7-5, 6-2.
Both teams will wrap up their regular season Monday as the Panthers host Frankton in their final CIC match while the Tigers travel to Eastern in Greentown before both head to Anderson for sectional Wednesday. Schools will learn their sectional foes Monday evening when the IHSAA will air the tournament draw.
Contact Rob Hunt at
email@example.com or 765-640-4886.