OTTUMWA — Fairfield Maharishi head boys tennis coach Steve Briggs considered Monday’s dual with Ottumwa a renewal of “the Highway 34 rivalry.”
After watching Sam Stickels, Chandre Morales, Zack Ray and Sam Kramer go at it in the top doubles match, it only made the rivalry even more enjoyable.
“That was as good a doubles match as I’ve seen all year,” Briggs said. “It totally could have gone either way.”
No one was concerned about the team score on Monday afternoon at Dan Staggs Courts, which would finish in favor of the visiting Pioneers by an 8-1 final score. Not when the two best doubles teams were on center stage putting on what observers called "the most highly competitive set of tennis" played this year.
Stickels and Morales exchanged sharp returns and thrilling rallies with Ray and Kramer in a set that needed a long tiebreaker to decide. The MSAE duo were able to stave off set point more than once on the way to a 10-8 win to take a great first set 7-6 on the way to a hard-earned straight set win.
But for all four players on the court, the match only served as a chance to improve each other’s skills. In a match where every point was so competitive, the difference between winning and losing was much closer than the final 7-6, 6-2 score would indicate.
“One or two points decided that match,” Kramer said. “It went their way. It could just as easily have gone our way. That’s what good tennis matches look like.”
Stickels and Morales teamed together for just the third time all season on Monday, moving to 3-0 as a doubles team with wins over West Des Moines Valley and Iowa City High on the resume. It was a great night for both players as Stickels, the third-place finisher in the Class 1A State Singles Tournament, beat Steve Ray 6-1, 6-1 in the top singles match.