By Brennan Stebbins (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Dylan Lynch and Chase Strong were locked in a tiebreaker in the No. 1 singles match when word came from the court behind them that the Class 1 District 11 tennis tournament was over.
Monett’s Angel Salas soon appeared with the good news: the Cubs were district champions.
Salas, the team’s No. 4 player, pulled off a 6-2 win in the decisive third set against Mt. Vernon’s Alvin Reid to give the Cubs a 5-3 victory on the day and the school’s first district championship in boys tennis since 1980.
“It surprised me,” Monett No. 1 Dylan Lynch said. “I heard them clapping over there and thought maybe something good just happened. I didn’t know we’d just won it.”
“I think I hit a volley and I spiked it and he couldn’t get it,” Salas said.
“It was amazing,” he said. “I’ve been playing tennis for the past four years and it’s something I’ve always wanted to do here.”
Monett opened the day by winning two out of three doubles matches for an early advantage. Ethan Kutz and Salas knocked off Curtis Meyer and Isaac Burks 8-4 in the No. 2 match and Heisman Welch and Jackson Young won 8-6 against Reid and Justin Moore in the third match.
Mt. Vernon’s duo of Strong and Isaac Barker won 8-6 against Lynch and Ben Hoyt in No. 1 doubles.
“Our game plan was to start out winning all three of our doubles matches and get a couple wins in singles to close the deal,” Monett coach Jason Smith said. “That was the only surprise, that we didn’t and our No. 1 doubles didn’t win their match and they’re the ones going on to sectionals for doubles. That was a little surprise but I knew if we didn’t get all three we’d eventually get it in the singles because they’re just that tough of a team.”
Monett maintained its momentum in singles play, with Young winning 6-3 in his first set in the No. 6 match. He went on to defeat Burks 6-3, 7-6 (7-4). Hoyt added another win in No. 3 singles, defeating Meyer 7-6 (7-3) and 6-4.
Mt. Vernon’s wins came in the No. 2 match where Barker won 6-3, 6-1 against Kutz, and at No. 5 where Moore won 6-2, 6-0 against Welch.
That left Monett with a 4-3 lead and No. 1 and No. 4 singles still playing. As Lynch and Strong started a tiebreaker at No. 1, Salas finished off Reid 6-4, 2-6, 6-2 to clinch the championship.
“I just knew in the beginning of the season that we had something special,” Smith said. “We’re very athletic. All of them have played multiple sports and I knew they’d been in clutch situations and when it came down to this we’d be successful because of that prior experience we’ve had in other sports. It wasn’t just me saying c’mon, we’ve got to practice harder, it was them motivating themselves to be successful.”
“It’s amazing,” Salas said. “2021, it’s a good year and I’m just happy we could get it done.”
The Cubs were seeded second in the tournament after a 7-4 regular season and knocked off Aurora 5-0 on Monday in the semifinals. Top-seeded Mt. Vernon beat Clever 5-1 on Monday and went 7-5 in the regular season.
It was Monett’s first appearance in a district championship in at least a decade. The Mountaineers finished as district runners up in 2016, 2012 and 2011.
“Super disappointed,” Mt. Vernon coach Tom Cox said. “Guys have worked hard to get here and the last few years we haven’t been super strong. We finished the year with a winning record, we won the Mt. Vernon tournament and finished second in the Monett tournament. We’ve got two guys who have qualified for individual sectionals.”
“We don’t have anybody that really plays year round,” he said. “Guys that just picked up a racket the beginning of March have really come a long way. I wish they could have gotten this one today but tip of the hat to Monett, they played well. You can’t just have good top players, you’ve got to be solid all the way through and they were. Both the coaches knew it was going to come down to right at the end and as it was we only had the one match that was left. That doesn’t happen very often.”
Monett will face Bolivar on May 17 in the Class 1 sectional round.