Tennis hasn’t always been popular on the local sports scene.
“Unfortunately, it is a hard game to learn, it takes a lot of practice, and you pretty much have to play all year if you want to get good at it,” Gibault boys tennis coach Jay Haines explained.
But with a Waterloo High School roster of 15 players and a Gibault roster of seven, the two teams are seeing some of their best program numbers and successes.
“I think (high school tennis) is finally starting to make a comeback and I hope that trend continues,” Hawks tennis player Michael Lesko told the Republic-Times. “I can see the rising interest. Waterloo has an even bigger team than us.”
Some of that rising interest has come with the success of the two programs, thanks in part to Waterloo’s veteran team of six seniors and Gibault tennis stand-out Lesko, who last year became the second player in Gibault history — and the first in a few decades — to qualify for state.
As a junior, Lesko — who’s current singles record is 20-2 — says his game has improved even from last year.
“My old game would’ve been a lot more, ‘go for everything,’ but lately it’s been a lot more solid,” he explained. “I’ve been playing a lot more fluent and a lot more controlled.”
First-year head coach Haines inherited the team and was impressed with his No. 1 singles player.
“He hits the ball hard and is very fast,” Haines described. “He has really worked hard on his consistency this year and will be a handful to beat.”
The Hawks will travel to the Carbondale Sectional to compete among large schools like Mt. Vernon, Carbondale and Marion because IHSA tennis is not broken up into classes. But with nine of the 12 players who qualified for state last year from the Carbondale Sectional schools all graduating in 2012 Gibault feels optimistic, according to Lesko.
Not only are the Hawks coming armed with Lesko, but also a solid No. 2 player in sophomore Johnny Lebert.
“He has had a lot of good wins and gets the most out of his game,” Haines explained. “Other than Michael he is the most competitive on our team.”
GHS also has a strong doubles team in tall brothers Caleb (6’2”) and Jacob Weiler (6’7”).
“They are both good athletes. Good hand-eye coordination,” Haines said. “Because of their size they should be really good in doubles.”
Waterloo also has a strong No. 1 player in Damon Lange and a powerhouse doubles team in Lange and Clayton Bourgeios.
Waterloo competed in the Mississippi Valley Conference meet over the weekend, finishing tied for fourth place.
The No. 2 doubles team of Chris Cook and Dustin Schrieber took home a second place finish, while Schreiber took second place in singles. And freshman Grant Rodenberg played his best tennis of the year, according to WHS tennis coach Brett Ivers, upsetting two higher seeded players and finishing second in his No. 5 singles flight.
“Lange and Bourgeois played a great match against a very good Jerseyville team,” Ivers explained. “After defeating them in three sets, they went back out to play the No. 1 seeded team from Triad. They played well but came up short.”
The Bulldogs will look to advance to state in the Belleville West Sectional this weekend, while Gibault took on Mascoutah Tuesday before heading to sectionals Friday and Saturday as well.