DIXON – One can learn a lot from a nonconference tennis match.
Sterling coach Kip Aitken, who did some serious shuffling of his lineup for Monday's soiree with Newman, found out it takes a lot more than an equipment malfunction or moving up a level to throw off Chandler Allen.
Accustomed to playing No. 2 singles, the Sterling senior beat Newman senior Alex Morgan 6-0, 6-0, despite breaking a string late in the first set.
"Very mentally tough performance by him," said Aitken, whose Golden Warriors took the meet 4-1. "Sometimes the smallest little thing can throw your concentration off and can affect the outcome of the match. He adapted well to something major like changing racquets mid-stream."
Up 4-0, Allen popped his string but had no backup, his reserve racquet being used by Micah Khuntangta in the No. 1 doubles match, which the senior and classmate Cody Woodyatt won 6-3, 6-3.
The dominoes of fate toppled as, about 15 feet to Khuntangta's left, Jonathon Downing elected to use his heavier racquet in his No. 2 doubles match, rather than the one his brother and Sterling graduate, Ryan, offered. So Aitken fetched the unused racquet, and gave it to Allen.
"I was planning on using Ryan's racquet for the entirety of the meet," Jonathon Downing said. "But I decided to switch back to mine, since it had just gotten restrung and had a little more edge to it."
Downing was pleased with his and partner Dustin Stoudt's ability to overcome the lob game of Newman juniors J.P. Neisewander and Andrew Schmitt and win 6-4, 6-3.
"They had fantastic lobs, I cannot lie. We actually had to back away from the net," Downing said. "Dustin and I are net players, and we couldn't use that against them."
Stoudt finally got to flex his net prowess in the closing points, first directing a backhanded winning volley, then painting the line with a forehand winner on the match's penultimate point before ripping a winner on match point.
Back to Allen, it took him a game to settle in with the new racquet's smaller head. Up love-40, he flat-out whiffed on a return of Morgan's serve.
"That happens frequently to everyone, and you just have to get back into the game," Allen said. "Every point is a new point. I knew, 5 seconds later, I was going to have another chance to win the game."
He made good and cruised the rest of the way.
Sterling freshman Jack Nitz was similarly in control in a 6-3, 6-1 victory over sophomore Connor Knack at No. 2 singles.
Newman's big discovery came in the form of seniors Luke LeMay and Ryan Schaab rallying from down 4-1 in the second set after dropping the first to beat Jacob Reynolds and Temo Barron 2-6, 6-4, 6-3.
"It's pretty special," Newman coach Ann Propheter said. "You always tell them it's not over 'til over, and that's why. Because it isn't. They just did a super job."
After the teams exchanged breaks to start the third set, and Sterling took a 2-1 lead behind Reynolds' service, Newman won LeMay's service game on four straight points, Schaab launching a lob over the tall Reynolds to go up 40-love.
After struggling with unforced errors in the first set, Schaab busted out the paint brush in the third.
"Schaab came along, kept hitting ground strokes and touching lines," LeMay said. "That got us going."
Schaab touched the right line with a forehand to go up 30-15 in the seventh game, then repeated the feat while returning a dandy of a Reynolds serve. Flustered, Reynolds hit a shot long and Newman took its first lead of the decisive set, 4-3.
Up 40-15 on LeMay's service, Schaab closed the next game with a cross-court forehand slice from left to right that touched the line.
On Barron's service, Newman flashed the team play of the meet, LeMay's passing shot pulling Barron beyond the boundary, and Schaab smoking his return cross-court, from right to left and, again, right on the line.
LeMay smashed the next point before Sterling evened things at 30-all, but LeMay answered a great serve with a better return to set up match point. Barron, visibly exhausted, put it into the net twice.
The Newman duo, which played as sophomores before taking last season off, agreed that simply putting the ball in play was key.
"In the first set, we kept hitting the white tape at the top of the net," LeMay said. "That just wears on you. Our coach has been harping on us forever to keep hitting the ball back so they have the opportunity to make a mistake."
There's no time to relish the victory. Today, they will challenge Neisewander and Schmitt for the No. 2 doubles billing. Only two tandems play at sectionals May 17 in Moline, to which Newman, Sterling and Dixon are all assigned.
All parties involved are excited for today's challenge match.
"It's different from other sports, and it's fun to be competitive at practices," Schaab said. "Everyone wants to play at sectionals."
"When you play against your teammates, you can really let loose," Neisewander said. "You don't really have to worry about what the other guy is thinking. You have a lot more fun."
Stars of the meet: Newman seniors Luke LeMay and Ryan Schaab, rallied from a 4-1 deficit in the second set to win in 3, 2-6, 6-4, 6-3
Up next: United Township at Sterling, 4:30 p.m. Wednesday; Newman at Mendota Invite, 8:30 a.m. Saturday
Read the scouting report on the Newman doubles teams that will square off today at saukvalley.com/blogs/extra-extra.