Friendly foes

September 13, 2018

MICHIGAN CITY — New Prairie head boys tennis coach Joel Hostetler called Michigan City one of his team’s toughest opponents throughout their entire 14-1 run this season. Michigan City coach Mike Tsugawa said after Monday’s loss to Hostetler’s Cougars that he was “as happy as he could be and lose.”

A couple weekends ago, the Cougars took their own invitational team title with the Wolves just four points behind them in the standings, finishing as the runner-ups of the event. On Monday, the Cougars squeaked out a 3-2 decision to move to 13-1 (before defeating John Glenn the next night for their 14th win).

The two teams have been right on each other’s coattails in the few times they’ve played each other, but there’s a strong sense of respect, courtesy and friendship between the coaches, who play doubles together on the side, and their respective teams.

“I love playing against Joel’s teams,” Tsugawa said Monday. “You know they’re going to be well-coached and they’re gonna give you a great match every single time. I love playing against New Prairie every year and I hope we get a chance to get them back in the sectional.”

After Monday’s match, both coaches kept their eyes on the court during a couple of junior varsity matches. It wasn’t just because some of their younger guys were playing. One of each team’s most experienced and important players — Michigan City’s Danny Walker and New Prairie’s Levi Britton — played a short singles exhibition while the final matches wrapped up.

“Where else are you going to see two great players have some fun and take some extra swings like those two are doing?” Tsugawa asked as the two players laughed and joked their way through the match. “Obviously, things would change about this if either one of them got hurt, but it’s good to see the kids not only having a good time, but wanting to revel in some competition. I love it. They’re a good bunch of people over there.”

Britton and No. 1 doubles partner Joe Henning have been a huge component into making the Cougars into one of the area’s better sides this season, but Hostetler’s bunch this season is a bit ahead of schedule. The top doubles pairing have led by example with their experience and accountability, but it’s been the younger players that have stepped to the forefront for the Cougars.

Freshman Nick Boyd has put forth a strong opening season to his high school career, while sophomore Wrigley Hemphill won the No. 3 singles title at the New Prairie Invitational and was rewarded with the No. 2 singles slot on Monday for his stellar play as of late.

“They’ve been able to improve and adapt,” Hostetler said. “Both change their game for the situation that they’re in and they’re really learning quickly for a freshman and a sophomore. They’re improving every match, which is incredibly difficult to do.”

There’s still “a bit of work to do and some things to clean up,” according to Hostetler with some matches to be played in the final week-plus before a rugged sectional that will feature the Cougars, the Wolves, Marquette and La Porte, the lone team to defeat the Cougars this season.

Still, Hostetler’s excited to see what the end of this season and the years ahead bring for Boyd, Hemphill and the rest of his bunch moving forward into the future.

“We’re gonna lose our No. 1 doubles team and half of our No. 2 doubles team, but we’re working with the younger kids to avoid a year-long break-in. Outside of Nick, Wrigley and Josh [Ferrell], most kids don’t play tennis until their first year of high school. We’ve usually got to teach them for a year, but I’m still very excited where our team is now and for the next couple of years as well.”

Reach Michael Whitlow at mwhitlow@thenewsdispatch.com or (219) 214-4169. Follow him on Twitter @couldbelikemike.

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