There wasn’t a dry shirt to be seen as the games were long and grueling.
In the end, the seeds held true.
Top seed Henry Bishop and second seed Nick McElroy advanced to today’s 18-under championship match at the inaugural Dan Staggs Open tennis tournament Monday at Ottumwa Country Club. The former high school teammates are no strangers to each other, but had to survive tough semifinal matches that weren’t reflective of the scores.
“I was able to hit through the ball better than I had been,” said McElroy, who defeated incoming eighth-grader Toby Schmidt 6-1, 6-2 in a semifinal match. “Toby stayed consistent with his angles and hit balls that would be hard for anyone. That was the toughest 6-1, 6-2 match I’ve played.”
Bishop, who graduated this spring, didn’t drop a game in defeating Trey Hull and Steven Langland. He won tough deuce points against Langland, especially in the second set to keep his perfect tournament going.
“My serving has definitely improved. I’ve been a lot more consistent on the first serve and kept the double-faults to a minimum,” said Bishop, who was the Bulldogs’ No. 2 singles player during the spring. “Really, I wasn’t overly confident coming into today, but when I beat Trey, it was a pretty good sign of where my game was at.”
Schmidt had an eye-opening performance in the tournament. He is playing in the 14-under tournament today as well, but upset Cale Leonard, a varsity player this season, in three sets to face McElroy in the semifinals.
“Toby is a gamer,” Ottumwa coach Mark Hanson said. “He really likes to compete, and as he gets older, he’ll only get stronger. In Cale’s defense, he’s played in a lot of golf tournaments this summer, so he probably would play him better if they played again.
“Toby just got sucked into Nick’s game, where if you don’t take advantage of what he gives you, it doesn’t work out for you,” Hanson said. “Nick plays his game really well.”
It was the first time Schmidt and McElroy had played each other, and McElroy was impressed.
“I fully expected to play Cale, but I also root for the underdog,” McElroy said. “When I saw he beat Cale 6-0 in the first set, I was surprised, but I also knew he was tired. I was able to hit some angles on him and drop some shots past him.”
Bishop and McElroy are familiar with each other. They have contrasting styles, but those proved highly successful through the semifinals. When they’ve faced each other in practices throughout the season, both had their share of success.
“I just have to stay strong against him, and really move him around as much as possible,” McElroy said. “Our matches have gone both ways.”
“Nick is a unique player, and I’ve had my ups and downs against him,” Bishop said. “I just have to try to outlast him and not let up, keep that serve consistent.”
Hanson created the tournament in honor of Staggs, the school’s longtime tennis coach who died last year. Hanson believed it was a way to also get his players offseason work.
“Last offseason, we didn’t play enough matches, and for a lot of these guys, this was their first taste of tournament competition with a nice crowd watching them,” Hanson said. “They’ll get tougher from this. There were a lot of positive things today, and a lot of great possibilities for us in the future.”
The 18-under championship will be played between 4-4:30 p.m. at the country club. The 14-under will have its tournament starting at 1:30, with both championships set to begin at approximately the same time.