High school matches started this week, but sectionals are just a little more than a month away, scheduled for Sept. 26-29.
Kerry Mumma, coach of regional champ Homestead, said his players have been working since the end of last year's season to make their way back to the state finals, but he knows the Spartans are not the only local team with the talent for a tournament run.
David Heiney, Homestead: Heiney was named first-team all-state as a freshman, and then again as a sophomore and a junior. In 2017, Heiney helped lead the Spartans to a 20-2 team record and their first trip to the state finals since 2009. He entered the state finals with an individual season record of 25-2, but lost to Aiden Harris 6-1, 6-7 (5), 6-1, as Homestead fell to Park Tudor in the quarterfinals.
Eli Herran, Leo: Herran was also named first-team all-state as a junior in 2017, but he was on the losing end of the tightly contested 6-3, 5-7, 6-3 match won by Heiney in the team regional championship.
Luke Stoffel, Carroll: Now a junior, Stoffel earned all-district honors and all-state honorable mention as a Chargers sophomore. He is poised to take over the No. 1 singles position vacated by Ethan Radke, who was one of the best players in the state as a senior in 2017.
Daniel Gilbert, Homestead: Gilbert entered the 2017 state finals with an individual record of 24-2 and won his match over Park Tudor's Alex Kim, all as a sophomore. Gilbert, who earned honorable mention for the all-state team, will move into the No. 2 singles position for the Spartans.
Isaac Steiner, Leo: The rising senior was named to the all-state second team as a singles player in 2017. He was the lone Lion to win his match in the regional championship against Homestead.
Homestead: After reaching the state finals for the first time in nearly a decade, 2017 District 2 Coach of the Year Kerry Mumma said his team is more motivated than ever to return. Aside from Heiney and Gilbert at No. 1 and 2 singles, Mumma said the Homestead lineup is still a work in progress, although both sophomore Tim Steiner and junior Bryant Zitlaw return after competing in the state tournament as doubles players.
Leo: Although the Lions failed to win their third consecutive regional title in 2017, they have won a sectional title in each of the last three seasons and return proven singles players in Herran and Isaac Steiner.
Angola: The Hornets added their 16th sectional title in 2017 and finished the season with a record of 15-6.
Bishop Dwenger: The Saints won their 15th sectional title last year, but the program has yet to claim a regional title. Will an incoming group of talented young players be the group to change that?
Adams Central: The Flying Jets won a sectional title in 2017, their fourth, but had their season ended by Leo in the first round of regionals.
Who will cause trouble in doubles play? Five 2017 all-district singles players from the Fort Wayne area return this fall, but just one doubles honoree, Homestead's Tim Steiner, is back this fall. (Homestead's Zitlaw also played doubles for the Spartans in the state tournament.) The field is wide open for new or improved doubles teams to make their mark.
Taking the mantle at Warsaw: The Tigers have won 30 sectional titles, including the last six, but if the streak continues it will be under a new coach. Stacy Lind, a former Tippecanoe Valley coach, takes over. Rick Orban, who coached the boys to 13 sectional titles in 15 years, was hospitalized with pneumonia for two weeks before returning to watch his team win the sectional tournament last year.
Spartans vs. Lions: Homestead and Leo are recent regional champs (Homestead in 2017, Leo in 2015 and 2016) that return two proven singles players. Both lost just once before the state playoffs. Which one will advance from regionals?
Leader in runners-up: Since 1967-68, Fort Wayne-area schools have been runners-up at state 10 times (Homestead nine times, and Concordia in 1971-72). But no local team has ever been state champ. Will this be the year that Homestead – or another local program – finally breaks through?
Individual glory: Huntington North's Auden Eckert was the lone local player to compete in the individual state tournament as a singles player or doubles pairing. Will the region be better represented next year?