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The Journal Gazette

Sunday, October 08, 2017 1:00 am

Spartans set aside nerves, reach state

CHRIS GOFF | The Journal Gazette

His stomach so filled with butterflies, Thomas Weir barely felt like eating breakfast Saturday morning.

On a vitally important day for Homestead's boys tennis program, Weir and his teammates admittedly woke up nervous, but they showed up to the Jimmy Clark Tennis Center cool and collected and handled Delta 5-0 to book a trip to the state finals.

“We've been waiting to hear (those words) for a while,” said Weir, a senior who won 6-0, 6-0 at No. 2 singles.

The fourth-ranked Spartans (20-1) earned their first semistate title since 2009. This meant everything to coach Kerry Mumma, who took over the program in 2013 hoping to restore a tradition that included almost annual semistate titles in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s.

“This is what I came here for,” Mumma said. “I had a vision of getting Homestead back to where they belong, which is the state finals.”

The Spartans face either Park Tudor on Friday in Carmel. No. 20 Delta (19-5) was the last opponent standing in their way, and the Eagles provided a test, especially in doubles play.

“The score is not at all reflective of how good they are and how close that match was,” Mumma said.

“I mean, 5-0 is very satisfying, but they are one of the best-coached teams in the state of Indiana. Tim (Cleland) just does an absolute wonderful job. Their kids play hard to the last point. This was a very nice program win.”

At No. 1 doubles, sophomore Bryant Zitlaw and senior Will Milne finally prevailed 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, and No. 2 doubles saw freshman Tim Steiner and senior Nicolas Graber rally to win 4-6, 7-5, 6-4.

“We've been working on them all year from a confidence level,” Mumma said. “All four of those kids are good tennis players. They just have to believe it, and I think in both of those matches, that third set, they bought into, 'You know, we belong here, and if we play well the results will take care of themselves,' so I am proud.”

Even junior David Heiney started a bit slow before besting Delta's Jason Wegener at No. 1 singles, 6-4, 6-2.

“He was a tremendous player,” Heiney said. “He definitely came out ready to play, and I don't think I was quite ready or prepared for that, so as the match went on I started to find my groove more and more. I started keeping more balls in play.”

The final piece on an unseasonably warm morning and afternoon was sophomore Daniel Gilbert taking a 6-1, 6-1 decision at No. 3 singles.

“We knew coming in Delta was a really good team,” Weir said. “We had a lot of respect for their coach, a legendary coach. We put in work this last week focusing on that. We knew they were going to compete. They're just too good of a program to not do that.”

Everyone on the Spartans knew what was at stake.

“I was pretty nervous,” Heiney said.

By the time they got in front of Mumma, they either hid their emotions or had gotten them in check. He saw a poised, confident group.

“Very subdued,” Mumma said. “I think they look at this as, 'Hey, we're ranked fourth, and we've been that way all year.' We deserve this. We belong here.”

cgoff@jg.net