Just a few days after falling to Hershey in the quarterfinals of the District 3 team playoffs, two members of the Elizabethtown Area High School boys tennis team had to square off against a pair of Trojans again. While the Bears were a lot more competitive this time around, they wound up falling short for the second time.
Junior Ethan Lown and freshman Trent McBride qualified for the Class 3A doubles bracket in District 3, taking on JT Mullins and Nate Shaw from Hershey in the first round on Friday, May 10, at Hershey Racquet Club. Seeded at No. 3, Mullins and Shaw came firing out of the gates, easily winning the initial two games in the first set.
Lown and McBride fought back, forcing deuce in the third game and eventually coming away with a win. However, Mullins and Shaw took the next four games to win the set 6-1, three off of deuce.
Following a Trojans win in the first game of the second set, Lown and McBride muscled their way to two deuce victories to take their first lead of the match; they were down 40-love in the third game. Mullins and Shaw went back up 3-2 after winning the next two before Elizabethtown tied it up at 3-3 with another deuce win.
However, it was all Hershey from there on out. Mullins and Shaw stepped up down the stretch, winning the final three games to get the 6-1, 6-3 overall victory and advance to the quarterfinals, where they won 6-3, 6-4 over Danny Engle and Collin Hall of Cocalico. The duo would lose 6-1, 6-1 in the semifinals to the eventual champions, Jackson Muraika and Danny Tull of Cedar Crest, before falling 6-1, 7-5 to Jonathan Burns and Sebastian May of Dallastown in the third-place match that clinched the last berth for states out of District 3.
Despite the loss, it was an encouraging outing for Lown and McBride, who finished the season 6-5 as a doubles duo; all but one of the losses came against teams who qualified for districts. They were able to force eight deuces against Mullins and Shaw, winning four of them.
“It was a lot closer than the score showed, and that happens a lot of times with tennis,” head coach Brenda McBride said. “They were just right in there nearly every game. Unfortunately, the better players are the ones who can finish out those deuces more frequently. Anything they (Ethan and Trent) gave them (the Hershey duo) high at the net was gone, and those guys were impeccable with their volleys. But it was a good experience for them. Hopefully, they’ll be back here next year as a stronger doubles team.”
The defeat marks the end of an overall successful season for the Bears, who surpassed expectations to capture their first section title in the Lancaster-Lebanon League since 1999. That year was also the last time Elizabethtown had made the district playoffs as a team.
“It totally exceeded my expectations,” Coach McBride said. “I’m just really happy about how everything went. Now that we know what the competition looks like, we know what we have to do for next year. We’ll have our work cut out for us, but I’m pleased with how the boys have done in representing E-Town.”
However, to continue that success in 2020, the Bears will have their work cut out for them, in part due to losing several players. Six seniors will graduate in a couple of weeks, three of them key fixtures in this year’s lineup. Evan Schneider was very productive, going 9-3 in singles and 15-2 in doubles. Chris and Jon Gartley went 9-7 as a doubles duo as well. Additionally, junior exchange student Nacho Bartolome (15-1 in singles, 9-1 in doubles) will be returning to his home country of Spain.
Outside of Lown (15-7 in singles) and Trent McBride (16-4 in singles), the only two members of the roster who have seen any varsity time are juniors Jimmy Overmoyer and Ben Oyler. The former had a solid record of 7-2 in doubles but had no singles action this season. Meanwhile, the latter ended up missing out on varsity play in 2019.
At the same time, the majority of Section Two, especially Cocalico and Manheim Central, the other teams that made districts, will also experience turnover due to graduation. In that respect, Elizabethtown is in a better position than the rest. With six players (junior Alex Long, sophomore Bradley Kruft, sophomore Hayden Musser, freshman Connor Alspaugh, freshman Steven Dupler and freshman Max McCloud) expected to be back alongside Lown, Overmoyer, Oyler and Trent McBride, the Bears could at least stay atop of the section for another season. But a lot of development from the inexperienced players will be needed in order to stick around for district contention again.
“We’re losing a lot, but we still have a solid No. 1 and No. 2 in Ethan and Trent,” Coach McBride said. “That can really make a team. I feel like we have boys that are gonna step up before next year. We got to get more kids playing in the offseason and year round. Ethan, Trent and Jimmy do, so they’re most likely gonna be the top three next year. I know they’re gonna continue to work and improve. We won’t be quite as strong, especially from the No. 3 position and down, but I think we’ll have a solid group.”