SPRINGFIELD, MO. — It was appropriate Thursday when sophomore Akash Rajan won the fifth and clinching match as John Burroughs defended its Missouri Class 1 boys team tennis state championship with a 5-2 victory over Metro League rival MICDS at Cooper Tennis Complex.
All Rajan had to do was to beat defending Class 1 singles champion Evan Erb of MICDS, which he did 6-4, 6-2.
It was the third match of the season between the sophomore standouts. Rajan won in the finals of the Metro League Tournament while Erb won in a dual match shortly thereafter.
"This feels pretty special," Rajan said. "I think this feels even better than last year because the competition was better. The first set was very tight. I just won a few more points than he did in the first set. The key for me was to stay consistent and stick to my game."
There is a strong possibility Rajan and Erb could meet again in the individual portion of the Class 1 state tournament. They are in the same half of the draw and would meet in the semifinals Saturday morning.
The Bombers, who had defeated Pembroke Hill 5-0 in the semifinals Thursday morning, won at No. 2 and 3 doubles to take 2-1 advantage going into singles. Dav Nayak and Sam Wang won at No. 2 doubles while Adam Zhao and Isaac Bledsoe won at No. 3.
Erb and Chase Nwamu won an exciting match at No. 1 doubles for MICDS over John Burroughs’ Rajan and Rory Sutter.
Wang won quickly at No. 4 singles for the Bombers while Nayak won at No. 3.
MICDS was doing well on some of the courts still playing when Nayak came through with the win at No. 1 singles.
"All I can say is wow," John Burroughs coach Allison Engelsmann said. "I think our depth and heart is what made this team a state champion again. I am very proud of them and I think it might feel even better beating a rival and such a good team as MICDS in the finals."
It was a special win for Bledsoe, a senior on a Bombers team dominated by sophomores.
Bledsoe is the youngest of a family which included brothers Karlos, Christian and Xavier. This is the third state championship in the Bledsoe family — Isaac won twice in tennis while Christian won in lacrosse.
"I gave up wrestling this winter, which I have done from seventh to 11th grade, to concentrate on tennis," said Bledsoe, the team captain who is going to Princeton. "This is a great way to go out. This is more special than last year because I played No. 7. This year I was able to contribute, although all props go to the sophomores (Rajan, Sutter, Nayak, Wang and Adam Zhao). I was losing my match today, but I had trust in the sophomores."
MICDS, which defeated Thomas Jefferson Independent 5-0 in its semifinal, had a singles win from freshman Brian Tokarczyk at No. 5 to go along with the win at No. 1 doubles.
"It came down to John Burroughs at the top spots," MICDS coach Patrick Huewe said. "We needed a win at No. 1 or 3 singles. Losing those put us in a tough spot. We were doing well on some of the other courts and I felt we fought hard. All credit goes to John Burroughs."
In the Class 2 tournament, St. Louis University High made quite a statement in its first state team tennis trip in 13 years.
The Junior Bills came back after losing two of their three doubles matches to defeat Rockhurst 5-3 in the semifinals before falling 5-0 to four-time defending champion Rock Bridge in the finals.
Freshmen paved the way for SLUH’s win over the Hawklets. Gus Tettamble and Nick Fischer won at No. 1 doubles while Tettamble (No. 1 singles), Fischer (No. 2 singles) and Henry Dowd (No. 6 singles) all were victorious. Sophomore Leo Da Silva won at No. 3 singles for the Junior Bills.
"The match against Rockhurst was tight like I expected," SLUH coach Brian Kirk said. "They were comparable to Marquette. I was hoping to get two wins in doubles but we really played well in singles. The three freshmen really stepped up and played fantastic tennis."