FORTVILLE — For three years, the New Palestine Dragons have drummed up big-match motivation through well-groomed gimmicks and lighthearted antics.
Not this time.
With the tennis team’s senior players calling for a closed- door meeting prior to Friday night’s sectional championship match against rival Mt. Vernon, the group’s intentions were clearly outlined — no haircuts or themes necessary.
“We have five seniors, and they had a chat with the team beforehand. The coaches had to leave the room,” New Palestine head coach Des Evans said. “I think it was about, ‘Do it for the seniors. Play with spirit. Play with heart. Take it to them.’”
The Dragons accomplished their goal. New Palestine charged out fast and defeated Mt. Vernon 3-2 to compete the first four-peat in sectional history and keep the seniors perfect in their career.
New Palestine has eliminated Mt. Vernon in the sectional every year since the Marauders won their last title in 2011. The Dragons beat them twice in the semifinals (2012 and 2013) before eliminating Greenfield-Central in the finals those years.
The two programs met in the finals last fall with New Palestine winning 5-0.
The Dragons stormed out to a 2-0 lead in the rivalry’s latest chapter, taking both doubles matches, including the vital No. 2 doubles spot where Mt. Vernon hoped to challenge.
During the teams’ regular-season match, Mt. Vernon changed up their No. 2 doubles lineup, inserting Gavin Stamper and Nathan Grandstaff to contend with David Hockett and Conner Page. The match went to three sets.
In the championship match, the Dragons walked away nearly unscathed in straight sets 6-0, 6-1.
“We drilled them for three days working on closing the net and trying to put the ball away,” Evans said. “We felt in previous matches, we’ve dominated the point but failed to finish it.
“We knew it was going to be tight because of how big of the occasion. We knew if we were tentative today, we would lose.”
Seniors Josh McKenny and Evan Rejer were determined, giving the team the lead with a 6-3, 6-2 win.
Mt. Vernon’s Matt Hays won 6-1, 6-1 at No. 3 singles to narrow the gap momentarily, but New Palestine freshman Matthew True sealed it with a 6-2, 6-2 victory at No. 2 singles.
“Give them the credit. Those guys came out and they were fired up. They were aggressive and they got us down early,” Muterspaugh said. “We just couldn’t get out of that hole. Once again, Matt True looked like one of the best players in our area.”
Mt. Vernon’s Brendon Ware battled back from a 0-6 first set to win in back-to-back sets 7-5 and give the Marauders its second point.
“I would be very remiss without speaking about Ware and Matt Hays, my two senior leaders,” Muterspaugh said. “13-5 is a tremendous season and we’re right on the cusp. We’ll be back again next year.”
Mt. Vernon Boys Tennis Sectional
New Palestine 3, Mt. Vernon 2
No. 1 singles: Brendon Ware (MV) def. Coltin Espich (NP) 0-6, 7-5, 7-5
No. 2 singles: Matthew True (NP) def. Ryan Beck (MV) 6-2, 6-2
No. 3 singles: Matt Hays (MV) def. Nicholas Ochs (NP) 6-1, 6-1
No. 1 doubles: Evan Rejer/Josh McKinney (NP) def. Wilken Baldwin/Jacob Swift (MV) 6-3, 6-2
No. 2 doubles: David Hockett/Conner Page (NP) def. Gavin Stamper/Nathan Grandstaff (MV) 6-0, 6-1