How David beat Goliath: Brebeuf ends decade-long drought against tennis power Park Tudor
The result was the same every year for a decade. Even if Brebeuf Jesuit had a good tennis team, maybe even a great one, Park Tudor stood in the way when sectionals came around. Every time, the Braves lost.
Until this year.
With a 3-2 win Thursday in the sectional championship, Brebeuf did more than knock off a longtime rival to win the program's first sectional title since 2010. Maybe, just maybe, the team shook the tennis landscape. The Panthers had been in the state finals in nine of the past 10 years.
“Hopefully it swings the balance of power a little bit,” said Brebeuf coach Brandon Gill, who is in his sixth year with the program.
The victory might not have happened without a win earlier this year. When the Braves knocked off Park Tudor 4-1 during the regular season, the team took some pressure off. The team knew it was good — it came into the regular-season match ranked fifth in the state — but the win proved the Braves could beat a team they knew they would see down the road.
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“We knew we didn’t have to prove anything because we already proved it in the regular season,” said Matthew McKay, who plays No. 2 doubles for the Braves. “We had a weight lifted off our shoulders, and we played our best tennis.”
McKay is just one of several seniors on the team. When he came into the program as a freshman, he had never played tennis before. Now, he has become a key part of a team hoping to make a deep tournament run. He credits Gill for his transformation.
“He showed me the fundamentals and how to play tennis the right way, then it was up to me working hard at it and honing my craft,” he said.
Gill said McKay has been an "integral" leader for the team.
“He’s played in different spots, and he’s done whatever we’ve asked him to do,” Gill said. “He’s come a long way. He’s grown a lot. Mentally, he’s a lot tougher than he was even a year ago. He’s matured quite a bit.”
Braves senior and No. 1 singles player David Hopper, ranked ninth in the state, admits he wasn’t sure the team had what it took to get past Park Tudor when the season began.
“I thought we were missing a few pieces,” he said. “(Now), this is one of the best teams we’ve had in five or six years. We’re tight-knit with good chemistry. I feel like other kids will want to play for us. This will be a positive thing for years to come.”
The season was up and down for Brebeuf. The win against Park Tudor and a conference title were high points, but losses to Carmel, Cathedral and North Central were reminders there were still hurdles to overcome.
But with just one win, the program picked up a marquee victory that could reverberate for years.
“I hope it puts Brebeuf on the map with tennis,” Gill said. “We’re a competitive program. Ranking-wise, we’ve been in the top 10 the past three years. Anybody looking at schools, they can say, ‘Brebeuf got through sectionals. They’re very capable.’”
The result serves as a warning for other perennial powers around the state: If you don’t bring your best, you could be going home.
“This year, everyone can beat everyone,” McKay said. “If you’re having a good day, you’re going to win. If you’re not playing your best, another team that could potentially be worse than you could beat you. On the day, we were just better.”
The journey isn’t done yet. The Braves face Brownsburg in the regional semifinals Tuesday. They beat the Bulldogs 3-2 in the regular season.
One of the biggest wins in program history has to be forgotten, at least for now.
“Park Tudor is already behind us,” Gill said. “We’re taking it one match at a time.”
Follow IndyStar sports reporter Matthew VanTryon on Twitter @MVanTryon and email him story ideas at [email protected]