The first match of the second day of the District Tournament is one of the most pressure-packed contests a high school tennis player will compete in.
Win, and you're headed to the State Tournament. Lose, and you're following from home.
Four Tennis Cats passed the test and punched tickets to Columbus. Two will be making a return trip and two will head to the Lindner Family Tennis Center in Mason, Ohio for the first time.
The two Saint Ignatius doubles teams entered Saturday with win-or-go-home matches to begin the day at 8:30 am at the Springside Racquet & Fitness Club in Akron. Both squads passed the test.
Brian Zhu and Arjun Brahmbhatt battled Revere's Raj and Ram Kumar. In a hard-fought battle, the Wildcats' senior-sophomore duo won the first set, 7-5, setting the stage for a gut-wrenching second. The contest extracted every ounce of energy from the Cats, but they emerged as the victory over Revere's duo, 7-5.
Richie Hofstra and Nate Day paired against Matt Warburton and Jacob Wood of North Canton Hoover. Head Coach Bobbe Bennett's senior-freshman Wildcat duo powered through to a narrow 7-6 win in the first set. The second proved to be difficult, too, but Hofstra and Day walked out with the 6-3 win to clinch a ticket to Cincinnati.
Meanwhile, Jack McNally fought to earn a spot at States as a singles player. Unfortunately, the junior fell just short. McNally suffered a 2-6, 1-6 defeat to Luke Qin. McNally will look to finish off his Wildcat career with a berth next year.
In doubles play, the bracket placed Brahmbhatt & Zhu and Hofstra & Day on a collision course for fifth place. With each duo having already qualified for States, the contest mattered little for the Cats save for bragging rights.
In a bout between the two top Wildcat duos, Brahmbhatt & Zhu captured the match and fifth place over Hofstra & Day, 7-5, 6-1.
"I'm so proud of these guys," Bennett said. "Winning that first match on Saturday to qualify for states is so much pressure. We stepped up to the challenge and played some good tennis.
"I'm very happy for the seniors to go back to states two years in a row and excited for Arjun and Nate to go as young as they are. It is no small feat to qualify."
Indeed, all four Wildcats have plenty to be proud of. The four Tennis Cats will compete at the State Tournament on Friday, May 25 and Saturday, May 26 at the Lindner Family Tennis Center in Mason. The tourney could be a wonderful ending to Zhu's and Hofstra's careers and a launching point for Brahmbhatt and Day.