The Tennis Cats are back in full swing for the 2021 season as they had their season opener on Wednesday, April 14, vs. Orange at Magnificat High School in Rocky River. The Cats opened their season right before Easter Break at Hawken, which was used for a match for the underclassman to get experience with the varsity squad.
The atmosphere at the tennis courts was tangible as the student-athletes were poised to be back on the tennis courts with their teammates. Something that they could not do this time last year due to the pandemic in 2020.
"We're thrilled to be back," says Head Tennis Coach Bobbe Bennett. "There is so much energy to being back and able to play; we are all grateful to be on the courts, and now we are getting into the teeth of the season with matches; everyone is excited to compete."
Bennett enters her fourth season as the head coach for the tennis program at Saint Ignatius High School and has great experience when it comes to the state tournament for high school tennis as she has won a state championship with Magnificat in 2016 and has led multiple Wildcats to the state tournament since taking over in 2018.
"It means a lot to be back," says senior Kenny Li. "Being able to be back on the courts together and just hit it's been great overall; seeing everyone's faces, it has been fun." Li is a crucial piece for the Wildcats as he headlines doubles for the Cats. At the same time, IUPUI commit Nate Day headlines singles.
"Kenny has been our rock for doubles in his four years, and Nate is a great singles player," explains Bennett. "They work well together, stepping up with warm-ups, matches, and helping the underclassman."
"I'm super excited," says Day. "I'm just hoping to play some of the best tennis in my career for Saint Ignatius; this the most excited I have been for high school season in all my four years."
Not having a 2020 season has amplified the focus for these Wildcats. Go to a Saint Ignatius tennis match, and you immediately witness the camaraderie by the student-athletes. 5-6 games are going on at once, but every Wildcat roots for their teammate on the other courts, keeping the energy high for the Blue and Gold.
"I think we have an excellent team this year," explains Day. "We need to continue to play hard every day, and I think we'll be successful."
Some underclassmen are playing in their first varsity tennis matches at the high school level with the roster. "A lot of our team is young; some are playing their first varsity matches," says Li. "It has been super fun to be that guiding force, and our last match, the older guys did not play, and we could cheer on and give them advice, I'm grateful for that opportunity."
Hawken was the first match of the season that saw Saint Ignatius fall 3-2 in the opener; however, that was a match made for the underclassmen to get varsity experience to open the season. "I was impressed with the younger guys," explains Bennett. "Being thrown into Hawken where they have a lot of tournament players, they showed some great stuff, everybody competed, and we had close matches."
The Wildcats' goal is to make it to the team state tournament this season, and they have the talent to do so but have plenty of worthy adversaries on their schedule this season that will help to prep for a state-run. "We didn't have a season last year, and I think we could have made a deep run last year," explains Li. "So coming into this season, the main goal is to get to the state tournament and get as far as we can."
"We have talked about the state tournament endlessly," says Bennett. "These matches are a build-up for team states, and we can't wait to put it all together."
The Wildcats battled hard on Wednesday vs. an incredible Orange Lions bunch but ultimately fell 4-1 in the home opener. Junior Kai Vesikallio was able to win his singles match against Krish Mehta of Orange. Winning set one 6-3 and set two 6-2.
After the weather postponed a trip to Avon to take on the Eagles on Thursday, the Wildcats will now prepare for a home meet against another Eagle mascot, and that will be against St. Edward in the Second Round of OTCA Coaches Cup at Magnificat High School at 4 p.m on Friday.