For some, the thought of competing at the highest level of competition in Illinois high school sports can be a bit nerve wracking. But imagine going up to play in Chicago as a player from a developing program at a school one-third to one-fourth of the size of your opponents’. That is exactly what it was like for three local tennis players at the IHSA Boys State Tennis tournament this past weekend.
At a tournament that is not divided into classes, Gibault junior Michael Lesko made his second state appearance and the school’s second in the boys tennis program’s history in more than two decades Friday.
Lesko, the Carbondale Sectional champion, matched up against Highland’s Evan Duff in his first match, defeating the Bulldog, 6-1, 6-1.
“In (Lesko’s) first match he was definitely pumped up and ready to go,” Gibault assistant tennis coach and Michael’s father Alan Lesko said.
Lesko’s next draw was against one of the best tennis players in the St. Louis metro area, Edwardsville’s Brandon Harris.
Harris dominated the match, overpowering the Hawks’ junior and handing Lesko his first loss of the tourney, 6-2, 6-0.
With just thirty minutes between each match, Lesko faced Steven Hill of Chicago’s De La Salle in the consolation bracket.
“They all play a lot of tennis in a short period of time,” first-year Hawks coach Jay Haines explained.
Lesko was on top of the first game most of the way through, leading the set, 5-4. He had a chance to win it with four set points, Haines explained. But Lesko would not pull through and fell 7-5, 6-1, in the following set.Local high school tennis players, from left, Clayton Bourgeois and Damon Lange of Waterloo, and Michael Lesko of Gibault, participated in the 2nd annual North vs. South Metro-East Illinois All-Star Tennis Match May 29, at Belleville East High School. Twenty-three of the top players from the area were invited to compete in skills competitions such as: serve speed, serve targets, groundstroke targets and groundstroke depth consistency. They also faced-off in singles and doubles matches. (submitted photo)
“He just kind of hit a wall in the last match,” Haines said.
“He started making a lot of uncharacteristic mistakes,” Alan Lesko added.
But Lesko hopes to have another shot at the state tournament next year, as a senior.
“He had a good tournament and a great year,” Haines said, excited for the growing tennis program at Gibault.
Lesko will play in USTA tournaments
this summer in the St. Louis area. His father says he is able to improve a lot over the summer and Coach Haines hopes to continue that trend with the rest of the team.
“I’m hoping to work with them this summer.”
Capping off their senior seasons, Waterloo doubles duo Damon Lange and Clayton Bourgeois made a strong state push over the weekend as well.
The pair fell in their first round draw in the IHSA Boys Tennis State Tournament doubles championship bracket to a seeded doubles team who had won their sectional in Moline’s Jed Wood and Pranav Purt, 6-1, 6-2. But went on to win two more matches to keep their state championship hopes alive in the consolation bracket. When things began to click for the duo, according to WHS tennis coach Brett Ivers, as they were getting to the net more often and producing solid shots.
Lange and Bourgeois defeated Matt O’Connell and Billy O’Connell of Crystal Lake Central, 6-1, 7-6(4), in a tie breaker.
“They hit the spots and hit the shots in order to be successful,” Ivers said.
The WHS seniors then defeated Zach Seigfried and Nate Naal of Joliet’s Catholic Academy, 6-2, 7-6(3), in their last match of the day on a cold and rainy Thursday in Chicago.
Friday Lange and Bourgeois played in their final match of the state tournament and of their high school careers in the third round of the consolation bracket, falling, 6-2, 6-2, to Nick Anderson and Zachary Bauernfeind of Naperville, which went on to place eighth at the state tournament.
“After grinding out those other matches it caught up with us when we met a team that was prepared for that grind,” Ivers explained, but added his team had a great time and was honored to play and be among some of the top players in the state.