Future is now for Pats tennisSeptember 27, 2021
By COREY STOLZENBACH
LINCOLN CITY - It hasn't been that long since the last time Heritage Hills won a sectional championship. The year was 2017 and the Patriots (14-2) won their second straight championship - doing so at Princeton.
But times have changed, and Heritage Hills now plays its sectional at Boonville. If the Pocket Athletic Conference champion Pats want to win their fourth sectional championship in history, then powerhouse Castle must fall. The Knights have 31 sectional championships all time, including the 27-year streak they are currently on, with 1993 being the last time the program didn't win a sectional championship.
Still, Heritage Hills has just one senior in No. 1 doubles player Kyle Eubank, and the Pats had four underclassmen in their lineup in Saturday's 4-1 PAC clincher against Washington to have a 12-0 conference record. Almost all of this group will remain together in the future, but the future is also now.
"We talk about right now a lot," Pats coach Derek Prior said. "...We set a goal to win PAC, but that goes from the first PAC match all the way through the end. Our second goal is to win sectional, but as far as the future, we're looking at right now."
One example of the future being now for Heritage Hills is the fact that freshman Maison Ficker is the team's No. 2 singles player.
"Maison - he loves to play," he said. "He absolutely loves to play tennis and he plays in the offseason a lot. And it's just showing how well he does at two-singles how much work he's put in. So, it helps to have a young guy there, but he's a big, tall freshman already and we're just looking forward to seeing how he develops over the next three years."
Ficker, Matthew Kress and Braden Pruitt have all played a season, and are no longer freshmen in Prior's eyes. They and their Heritage Hills teammates concluded the regular season Monday at Wood Memorial, with the Pats taking a 5-0 win. Prior used his players in different spots, but texted The Herald that they'll revert back to their usual lineup for the sectional.
The Pats now have their lineup set, which changed a bit from earlier in the year. Kress got some time at No. 3 singles, but now he's at No. 1 doubles with Eubank, while junior Kevin Dilger is in the No. 3 singles spot.
"Kevin - he's a really, really strong singles player," Prior said. "We wanted to see what it'd be like to have him at our one-doubles spot - just to see if he could strengthen one-doubles a little bit. Matthew - he's still a really good player, even as a freshman. So, moving him to three-singles wasn't going to affect us too much there.
"But we were just trying to see how we could rotate some guys around just to see what would happen, but in the end, we think we're strongest with Kevin at three-singles," he continued.
The Pats have rolled with junior Kayden Bell at the No. 1 singles, and ascended to this spot after playing No. 2 singles last year, while the graduated Josh Dellamuth was in the top spot. Prior told The Herald that there are tough matches at No. 2 singles, but everybody's best comes every night at the No. 1 singles, and Prior lauded Bell for how he's competed.
Heritage Hills Pruitt and sophomore Braylon Caswell as its No. 2 doubles combo.
The singles players have been a big catalyst for the Pats this season, and they'll be looking for consistency in order to win the sectional, especially among the doubles teams. Prior said Heritage Hills has a lot of unforced errors, and they'll need to make fewer mistakes.
The Pats are scheduled to play Thursday against Tell City. A win would put them in the championship match, in which they'd take on either South Spencer, Boonville or Castle - who has a bye into the semifinals.
"I think it's time we beat (Castle) and start our winning streak in the sectional," Dilger said.
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