Rockhurst senior Alex Koca left Springfield on Saturday with vivid memories, both good and bad, of his years at the Missouri boy’s tennis tournament.
And, by the way, he also left with a Class 2 singles championship.
Koca won the clinching match for the Hawklets in capturing the team tournament in 2013 (he was also pivotal in a repeat team championship Thursday).
But the memories were not all pleasant for Koca in Springfield as he “celebrated” the team championship in 2013 in the emergency room as he needed his appendix removed.
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That prevented him from competing in the individual portion of the 2013 tournament.
“It was very disappointing because I thought I had a good chance of winning the title,” Koca said.
But it also gave extra importance on getting the job done in his senior year. It was not an easy draw, though, as Koca was not seeded since he did not participate last year. He drew four-time state medalist Alex Pozo of CBC in the first round. He won that match 6-4, 6-4 and didn’t lose a set in his four matches.
Koca defeated Micah Klousia of Glendale 6-4, 6-3 in the championship match. Klousia had a 34-0 record going into the match and one of those wins was a decisive 6-2, 6-2 win over Koca in the Tournament of Champions early in the year.
“In that match I tried to out-hit him and you can’t beat him that way,” said Koca, who will play at Creighton University next year. “Today I just wanted to grind it out and get every ball and hit it as deep as I could.”
Koca got off to a fast start with a 4-1 lead in the opening set, but Klousia, playing in front of a large hometown crowd, won the next two games. Koca was able to break at 5-4 to capture the set. He was up 4-3 in the second set when the match was moved indoors after three weather delays, one for rain and two for lightning.
“That was a bit of a concern because he was cramping and he had time to be worked on,” Koca said.
But Koca closed things out with a break and a hold and his state singles championship.
“Alex played a very smart match today,” Rockhurst coach Zach Frisch said. “Alex is in phenomenal shape, and we felt the longer the points and the longer the match was to our benefit. I told him he played well, but this championship was also about the early mornings in the weight room and all the work he put it.”
Koca’s win clinched the “Triple Crown” of high school tennis (team, singles and doubles titles) as two Rockhurst teams were playing against each other in the Class 2 doubles championship.
And it turned out to be one of the best matches of the entire weekend as juniors Joe O’Connor and Jack Evans saved a pair of championship points in a third-set tie-breaker and defeated teammates and defending champions John Nogalski and Jacob Moore 2-6, 6-4, 7-6 (7-6).
Nogalski and Moore had leads of 4-1 and 6-4 in the third-set tie-breaker but the juniors battled back and won it as O’Connor got his first serve in on their first championship point and Nogalski hit a backhand return into the net.
“This is so special,” O’Connor said. “Jack and I have been friends since we were in kindergarten. We went to grade school together (at Curè of Ars in Leawood). It is great to be able to celebrate with him.”
“It was a little rough playing against teammates, but we came here to win,” Evans said. “This is something that we will remember forever.”
The Lee’s Summit West doubles team of Franklin Zhong and Aaron Cunningham finished fourth in Class 2 doubles.
Pembroke Hill’s March Zheng had the best local finish in the Class 1 tournament which was dominated by the St. Louis area.
Zheng, who upset defending Class 1 singles champion Mac Rechan of Clayton on Friday, lost in the semifinals to Tyler Raclin of MICDS but rebounded to win his third-place match over William Sistrunk of Greenwood 6-3, 6-1.
The Barstow doubles team of Steven Ketchmark and Ben Abbas placed third in doubles in Class 1. They lost in the semifinals to two-time state champions Bailey Merkel and Derek Bell of Westminster Christian, but defeated Zale Shah and Ryan Thornton of John Burroughs in the third-place match 5-7, 6-4, 6-4.
Pembroke Hill’s Tristan Threatt and Sam Kramer defeated teammates Noah Bortnick and Josh Bortnick in three sets to win the Class 1 doubles consolation championship.