Winning four matches without dropping a set at St. Joseph Wednesday, senior is first Hornet to be so since Gabe Poling in 2015
ST. JOSEPH, Mo. — When the singles entries for Wednesday's (April 24) 2019 Midland Empire Conference Tennis Championships were submitted by the respective schools’ coaches, an unexpectedly-clear path to the title opened for Chillicothe (Mo.) HS senior Tyler Maasdam. He didn’t waste it.
Having lost to only one conference opponent in singles thus far – 6-8 to Alex Finazzo of current MEC leader Kansas City: St. Pius X, Maasdam somewhat unexpectedly found himself as the league tourney’s No. 1 seed for singles when Finazzo was not entered in that competition.
He exploited that absence to the fullest, plowing through four foes without loss of a set to become CHS’ 13th conference singles champion (MEC or North Central Missouri Conference) and first since Gabe Poling secured the second of his pair in 2015.
The only Hornet to medal in Wednesday’s event at the traditional league-tourney site – St. Joseph’s Noyes Tennis Center, Maasdam overcame a late first-set lull in the championship match to best Maryville’s Mason Walk 7-6 (0), 6-2.
That came on the heels of a near-flawless 6-0, 6-0 blitz of Cameron’s top player, David Beasley, in the semifinals, while Walk was playing a much-longer best-of-3 semifinal.
Maasdam’s greater freshness helped him zip to wins in the first four games of the final. However, the seemingly-pending rout of the Spoofhound suddenly took a U-turn as Walk found his rhythm and won six of the next 10 games to square the opening set at 6-6 and send it to a 12-points tiebreaker.
Responding well to the pressure of being on the verge of blowing the set of which he’d seemed to have full control, the Chillicothean won the first point, then the second and third to flip the pressure to Walk. The momentum he’d built during his rally from down 0-4 faded, the Maryville player could not summon the strokes to turn the tide a second time and Maasdam not only took the tiebreaker – and thus the first set, but did it without losing any of the minimum-needed seven points.
Given Maasdam’s greater record of performance during the season and the lighter workload he’d had on the day, the Hornet figured to have both the physical and psychological advantage going to the second set, and that’s exactly how the action played out.
Although Walk was able to claim a couple of games, Maasdam again established a lead, widened it, and this time didn’t wobble, closing out the set in eight games, the match in straight sets, and the conference title without loss of a set.
With each of the eight schools able to enter two singles player and two doubles tandems, the 16-entries brackets meant four rounds of play on the championship side. While the first two rounds on the championship side and all consolation-bracket action were played with “pro-8” single-set match scoring (first player or duo to win eight games with a lead of two games won the set/match), the championship semifinals and finals were the more-taxing best-of-3 sets format with sets going to the first entry to win six games (also while leading by two).
As the No. 1 seed in singles, Maasdam charged out of the gate against St. Joseph: Bishop LeBlond’s Logan Hovey, prevailing 8-0. In the quarterfinals, he measured Aiden McClenney of St. Pius X 8-4. His quick blowout of Beasley then put him in the title match having played only four games over the minimum-possible 28 games.
Chillicothe coach Bob Long chose to make Brendon Nelson the other Hornet to play singles, while Noah Crowe/Seth Batye and Colten Johnson/Gavin Sampsel were used as the doubles entries.
Each lost their opening set to be relegated to the consolation side of the action at the 12-courts Noyes Center. Nelson would take his first two consolation sets, but was defeated in the semifinals. Both Crowe/Batye and Johnson/Sampsel won their first consolation-bracket sets, but then were eliminated in the next round.
Nelson’s first-round loss came in marathon fashion. He and similarly-surnamed Tanner Nielson of Savannah split the first 16 games, taking them into the equivalent of tennis overtime – a scheduled 12-points tiebreaker in which the first player to win at least seven points with a 2-points lead claimed the tiebreaker and, thus, the set.
Not settling for just going to overtime, in terms of game, Nelson and Nielson went well beyond the routine prescribed number of tiebreaker points. With a win possible in as few as seven points – as Maasdam did against Walk in their first set – and normally achieved in a maximum of 12, once they finished 12 points still knotted at 6-6, neither the Hornets junior nor his Savannah foe could forge the required 2-points lead for another nine points.
Finally, after Nielson snapped the 10-10 tie by winning the next rally, he followed it with another to give him the tiebreaker at 12-10, the set and match at 9-8, all in one fell swoop.
Rather than be disheartened and discouraged, in addition to fatigued from the extra points and pressure, Nelson bounced back admirably. He bested St. Joseph: Benton’s Riley Kukuc 8-1 in his consolation opener, then played another long, tough set against Jacob Burri of Bishop LeBlond before this time emerging victorious, 9-7.
Nelson’s day then ended when Nick Helmich of Cameron topped him 8-2.
Batye and Crowe, not predicted by the seedings to do well, didn’t get off to a good start and succumbed to eventual runnersup Drew Collier and Landon Butcher of Savannah 2-8.
Shifting to the consolation half of the bracket, the Hornets came away with an 8-4 triumph over a Cameron combo before a Bishop LeBlond tandem outlasted them 8-6.
Sampsel and Johnson lost to eventual doubles champions Tage Young and Kris Rudel of Savannah 1-8 before notching an 8-3 victory over a St. Pius X pair. The CHS tandem’s second consolation-bracket set, against a Bishop LeBlond duo went to a tiebreaker, which the Golden Eagles entry won 7-4 to take the set, 9-8, eliminating the two Hornets.
Chillicothe’s boys’ tennis team now has nearly a week off before its next scheduled action – a MEC home match against St. Joseph: Lafayette next Tuesday.