SPRINGFIELD—For the second consecutive year, the Class 2 boys state tennis championship was largely dominated by the play of Rock Bridge High School and Glendale’s Paul Nahon.
But several St. Louis-area teams and players showed that they, too, could play high-level tennis at the championship, which took place May 26-28 at the Cooper Tennis Complex in Springfield, MO.
Rockwood Summit sophomore Dylan Steffens, who entered the state tournament with a 17-1 record, lost to Nahon in the opening round. But Steffens picked up his play in the consolation bracket. He won four straight matches without losing a set to earn a fifth-place medal.
Three of the four players who finished ahead of Steffens are seniors. Along with Rock Bridge junior Ford Zitsch, who finished second, Steffens will be one of the favorites to take home the state title next year.
In a first-round match that featured two of the best doubles teams in the tournament, Lafayette seniors Mick Lyons and Jake Goodman came back after losing the opening set to topple the Kirkwood team of brothers Drew Morris, a senior, and junior Tanner Morris, 4-6, 6-2, 6-2.
It was the second time in six days that the doubles teams faced off. On May 21, Lyons and Goodman beat the Morris brothers in three sets to clinch the Lancers’ spot in the team portion at the state tourney.
Lafayette knocked off Parkway Central, 5-4, in the state team semifinals before falling to champion Rock Bridge, 5-2. Rock Bridge got to the finals by virtue of their 5-3 win over Rockhurst.
The Lafayette-Kirkwood state doubles matchup was set up by a blind draw that often results in mixed reactions from players, coaches and fans. Drew Morris said he wished he didn’t have to play the Lafayette duo right off the bat.
“When I saw the draw, the first thing I said was ‘crap,’” Drew Morris said. “I’ve known Mick since I was like 8. I was just like, why am I going to play my biggest rival in the first round of state? It makes no sense to me.”
Tanner Morris said he and his brother came out a little flat in the second set, which caused the team to lose momentum.
“In that third set, we started serving like we did in the first set, and we were moving better,” Tanner Morris said. “But then there were a couple of points in multiple games that just didn’t go our way. There were like three or four games that they won, but we had game or break points in them. We just didn’t execute.”
After defeating the Morris brothers, Lyons and Goodman played seniors Ben Hess and Dan Brodnick of Francis Howell North. Hess and Brodnick were 21-0 entering state, and improved that record by beating McCluer North seniors Josh Papes and Carlton Poindexter in the opening round.
Papes had a standout season at the No. 1 singles spot for the Stars, and he said that he appreciated experiencing the state tournament for the first time.
“It was awesome,” Papes said. “I needed to do it because three years I’ve been shut out by SLUH. I was happy with the way I played, and I was happy to be there.”
In the Lafayette-Francis Howell North doubles matchup, the Knights’ undefeated season came to an end, as Lyons and Goodman won 6-1, 6-0 to advance to the semis.
Lyons and Goodman fell just short of a berth to the finals, as they fell to Rock Bridge’s James Hunter and Joe LaRose, 2-6, 7-6 (7-5), 6-0. The Lafayette pair did bounce back to win the third-place match over Kirkwood’s Robert Conroy, a senior, and Josh Waite, a junior.
Conroy and Waite made it to the semifinals by defeating Central (Springfield) 6-0, 6-0 in round one, and then a Park Hill South team in three sets. But the Pioneers fell in the semis to Rockhurst’s Joseph Monaldo and John Seigfreid, 6-4, 2-6, 6-2.
Other St. Louis-area state qualifiers for doubles were Parkway Central juniors Ninaad Balachandran and Daniel Li, Fort Zumwalt South seniors Slater Felzien and Trevor Millsaps-Fair and Chaminade’s Spencer Hilton, a junior, and Chris Matteo, a senior.
Hilton and Matteo lost their first-round match then won two straight matches—including a 6-4, 6-3 victory over Felzien and Millsaps-Fair—before losing in the consolation semifinals.
“You can’t underestimate anyone out here,” Hilton said. “Everyone’s here because they’re good.”
St. Louis-area Class 2 players didn’t fare as well in singles play. Parkway Central senior Michael Davis and SLUH senior Greg Marifian were the only local players to advance to the quarterfinals. Only Marifian got through to the semis, as he finished fourth.
Davis, who played through a shoulder injury, beat Mehlville senior Jeremy Sellmeyer in the first round. Sellmeyer was the first Mehlville boys tennis player to qualify for state in over a decade.
But Davis couldn’t get past Glendale’s Nahon, who went on to win the championship without dropping a set.
Christian Brothers College freshman Alex Pozo had a strong showing in his first state tournament. After losing to Zitsch in the first round, Pozo won his next three consolation matches in straight sets. Pozo received a sixth-place medal after losing to Steffens 7-5, 6-3.
Other local Class 2 singles players to make it to state were Parkway Central senior Ashwath Sampath, Francis Howell North sophomore Robbie Nicolli and Holt junior Conner Bunch.