MARION — For the seventh straight year, the Lapel boys tennis team came to Marion looking to advance beyond regional only to come up short.
This time around, there was something of a silver lining to the defeat.
Although Lapel lost to Marion in a 3-2 decision, Bulldogs senior Jesse McCurdy prevailed in a grueling three-set match to claim the No. 1 singles point and advance in the state singles tournament.
McCurdy will face Muncie Burris freshman Charlie Behrman on Wednesday at Marion.
McCurdy’s win was hard earned against a lifelong friend in Marion junior Vikram Oddiraju.
While the two players slugged it out from baseline to baseline, it was Oddiraju who had the better of things early. He blitzed McCurdy for a quick 3-0 lead before taking the first set 6-1.
McCurdy needed to refocus and get back to his game heading into the second set.
“When I need to change my strategy, I usually come up with a single word or a phrase to change my mindset,” McCurdy said. “Today, my phrase was ‘Get control of the point first.’ I was quickly getting caught on the defensive in the first set.”
The key phrase worked.
McCurdy completely flipped the script in the second set, jumping out to a 4-1 lead before evening up the match 6-2.
“I felt like in the second set, we needed to get more control of the points,” Lapel coach Justin Coomer said. “When Jesse is at his best, he’s moving kids off the court, he’s hitting it down the sidelines.”
That set the stage for an epic third set, which it seemed neither player wanted early.
McCurdy and Oddiraju both failed to hold serve in the final set, until the Marion junior did so for a 3-2 lead.
During the changeover, McCurdy reminded himself to take control of the point.
“Sometimes, you have to put the scoreboard out of your mind and just play tennis” McCurdy said.
He did that to the tune of three straight game wins for a 5-3 lead. After Oddiraju held serve, McCurdy had a chance to serve out the match.
But Oddiraju broke back to even the set at 5-5.
McCurdy then bowed his back, broke Oddiraju to take the 6-5 lead, and, with a large Lapel contingent cheering every point, served out the final game to take an emotional 1-6, 6-2, 7-5 win over a player he’s known for a long time.
“I think tonight, on both sides, was a celebration of teammates, encouragement and passion,” McCurdy said. “I felt extremely encouraged and supported by the crowd. I honestly don’t think I could have battled back without their support.
“I have nothing but respect for Vikram. He’s not only an extraordinary player but a long-time friend from the Anderson Sports Center.”
Lapel’s second point, like McCurdy’s win, came after the team match had been decided as junior Nick Thalls and sophomore Corbin Renihan defeated Tristan Galeon and Nicolas Madden 6-2, 6-3 at No. 1 doubles.
“I think getting out and getting ahead early made them think these points truly mattered,” Thalls said. “They got frustrated early, and when they got down, they thought about every point and how they messed up.”
Junior Jake Eppert and freshman Asher Evelo dropped the other two singles matches 6-0, 6-0 while Trevor Whaley and Camden Gooding lost the No. 2 doubles match 6-0, 6-3.
Madison-Grant’s No. 1 doubles team of Nick Evans and Jackson Manwell defeated Colton Fisher and Jake Good from Randolph Southern 6-2, 6-2, to advance in the doubles tournament. They will face Mississinewa on Wednesday at Marion.
At North Central, the season ended for the Pendleton Heights doubles team of Kaleb Alumbaugh and Jackson McKinney. They dropped a three-set match to Lawrence Central 6-3, 4-6, 6-4.