If you want to be the best, you have to beat the best, or so the saying goes.
And the Homestead boys tennis team will have to beat the best at the state quarterfinals if they are to move on to the final day of the state tournament Saturday.
The No. 4-ranked Spartans have drawn No. 1 Carmel and will play on the Greyhounds' home courts Friday at noon.
A few players who have competed at the state finals said the atmosphere is noticeably more intense than any other matches during season.
“It's definitely very different, a different feel” from sectionals or even regionals, said senior Landon Sather, who competed in the state finals as a sophomore. “It's overall more exciting, and a little more nerve-wracking, but once you're on the court you feel that vibe and the enthusiasm.”
Homestead played Carmel just before sectionals began, falling 4-1, and most of the Spartans expect to face the same individual opponents in their matches this time around.
Thaddeus Dressel was beaten 6-1, 6-1 by Broc Fletcher.
“Last time he played very, very well, and I don't think he's going to play like that this time. But I can't be ready for him to play very badly,” Dressel said of Fletcher, who appeared to play an exceptionally strong match against the Homestead senior. “I think I'm going to have to rally a lot more and be less aggressive. I'm going to have to try and play more defense. And then when I get an opportunity, be more aggressive.”
Sather and his partner at No. 1 doubles, Tim Steiner, were the only ones to beat their Carmel opponents, taking down Jones McNamar and Srisanth Malpeddi 5-7, 7-5, 11-9.
“It's going to be a tough match for sure. We've played them twice this season, and we've split sets both times. One time they got the better of us, and the most recent time we pulled it out, so hopefully me and Landon pull it out,” Steiner said, noting that he and Sather could still advance in the doubles tournament with a win even if the team as a whole loses Friday. “I think the main things are don't be afraid to hit big shots and not be too passive. Have a lot of variety and keep them guessing the whole time.”
Freshman Stephen Meier will be making his state finals debut at No. 2 singles, and junior Jared Sagan, who is in his first year on varsity, will play at No. 3 singles.
Senior Sebastian Cowan did play against Carmel a few weeks ago (he and his No. 2 doubles partner Alex Graber were beaten 6-2, 6-0), but Cowan lost much of his final high school season due to quarantine.
“It was really frustrating, because I was looking forward to playing North Central and all those teams, which I didn't get to play,” Cowan said. “It was mentally tough, but I looked forward to when I could play and I stayed super, super positive.”
While Cowan said he is glad that the playoff run has given him more time to play after missing so much of the season, he also feels that he knows less about some of Homestead's opponents than his teammates who have been able to play and watch high-level opponents all season.
“They have a really good lefty, and he's going to be the hardest part. We're going to have to come into the net and win the net game,” Cowan said of his upcoming doubles opponents. “(Alex and I) have super good chemistry. Our serves are probably our strength. We have good volleys, and my partner has a good reaction time. Basically anything that comes to him goes right back to the other side, so that's good for us.”