BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
WATERLOO – Sam Avery had about as tough a path to try and place at the Iowa State Tennis Tournament as any unseeded player in the draw.
But the senior from Holy Trinity did Fort Madison proud as he went up against two of the top four singles players in Class 1A in the state before bowing out in the second round of consolation play Friday.
Avery, who qualified for the first time this year, also got into the second round of consolation play but lost in a late afternoon match to end his high school playing time.
He entered the tournament unseeded as West Burlington/Notre Dame’s Travis Wills upset him in the finals of district play two weeks ago. The state ranks the top four players and seeds them into the bracket against the pool and Avery drew No. 2 Evan Moon out of North Polk Alleman out of the gate.
Moon was 21-0 on the year in match play and didn’t drop a set all year, sporting a 220-22 game record.
Moon took the first game on serve in a match played indoors because of a temperamental weather pattern, but Avery was able to knot it up after scoring a point from the ad court. But then Moon would rip off five straight, breaking Avery’s serve at games 3 and 5 for a 6-1 first set win. But Avery was in each game other than a love game at 3-1 for Moon.
In game five, Avery had Moon at ad-out, but the junior from Alleman showed why he’s the second best player in the state in Class 1A, chasing down a blistering forehand and then a blistering backhand from Avery to win the point and the game when Avery missed an overhead in the front court.
Unforced errors were the theme for Avery in the second set with Moon again going up 2-0 quickly. Avery would get his only game on a 40-0 service win that included the only ace of the match. Moon would break Avery’s serve again in the fourth and sixth games to win the match.
“He’s a phenomenal player for sure,” Avery said. “I was playing my best tennis, but I have to work on consistency. That’s one of the things I could have been better at today. Aside from that, everything felt the best it has all season. Even at 1-6, 1-6 I felt happy with the way I played. I felt like I looked like some of these really good guys.”
Head Coach Dean Hogan said it’s always tough to lose a senior and he said Avery, in his match against Moon, played his best tennis ever.
“That was a win for Sam that you can’t call a win,” Hogan said. “That match against Moon, who’s seeded second in the state, was the best tennis Sam has played all year. He was staying in points and moving Moon around. Doing the things with his groundstrokes better than he’s done all year.”
The skies cleared, literally and figuratively, for Avery in round 2. All tennis was moved outdoors as the rains stopped and Avery found himself against Grant Sturm of Atlantic.
The match was slower as Avery let the sophomore dictate the pace of play and quickly jump to a 5-1 lead breaking Sturm’s serve at games two, four, and six.
Sturm would get a break when a let cord fell on Avery’s side to take the first set to 5-3, but Avery would finish the set with an overhead at 40-30 in the sixth game.
The second set would be much the same style of play, but Avery couldn’t shake Sturm until 4-3 when an overhead bounced over Sturm’s head for a game point and a 5-3 lead. Avery would win the next game on serve for the match.
His final match Friday was against 4th-seeded Zach Wingert of LeMars, who was upset in the second round of the championship bracket by unseeded Jack Edwards of Pella.
The match went very much the same ways as Avery’s first match with Avery knotting the score at 1-all on serve in the first set. The match was still on serve at 2-3 and then Wingert broke Avery’s serve to go up 4-2 and take some of the energy from Avery.
Wingert would win 40-love on his next service game to go up 5-2 and then would break Avery in the eighth game to take the set.
The Bloodhound got down 0-4 after an unforced error at the net off a Wingert running backhand cost Avery the game. Wingert would double fault at 30-40 in game five to give Avery his first game of the set and he seemed to find some rhythm from there taking the next game moving Wingert from side to side and then ripping a backhand down to Wingert’s right that got through to cut the lead to 2-4.
Avery would break serve to close the gap to 3-4, but Avery failed to consolidate and Wingert would break right back to put him one game from the match. He ended Avery’s run in the next game on serve.
“With Moon and Wingert, they’re gonna return every single ball and if it’s a point, it’s because you hit a better shot. With Moon I think he hit long maybe one time in the whole match. It was insane,” Avery said.
“My goal since I was a freshman was just to get to state in either doubles or singles and it means a lot to be able to finally get here as a senior.”