Marshall wins district, returns to boys' tennis playoffs
Sunday's graduation ceremonies were a final chapter on a storybook senior year for Marshall's Blake Garrett.
Now he has a chance to write a fitting epilogue.
Garrett, a four-year letterman in boys' tennis, earned a ticket to the state meet Saturday by teaming with freshman Myles Yokeley for the doubles championship of the Class 1, District 4 Tournament at Marshall. In the process, for just the second time in Garrett's career, the Owls made the playoffs by winning the district title.
"I knew it was possible to get to (the sectional), but I wasn't positive we would get first," remarked MHS head coach Susan Carney. "They did everything they needed to do to win it."
None more so than Garrett, looking forward to another post-season run for Marshall. It should be recalled that he played a vital leadership role on the Owls' soccer team, which reached the Final Four for the first time in school history during the fall campaign.
Although Garrett will be playing for the team during Saturday's MSHSAA Class 1 Sectional at St. Louis, he will also be lending his state tourney experience to partner Yokeley when they enter the MSHSAA Class 1 Individual Championships at Springfield May 30-31.
"It's like you're not as scared," Garrett explained the mental approach to a second trip to state. "It's just regular stuff."
Not that he has to worry much about his partner. Yokeley is as nearly unflappable as he is talented, one reason Garrett -- after filling the No. 1 singles slot a year ago -- was not at all resentful of being supplanted in that position by a varsity rookie.
"He knows what he's doing," Garrett said. "I predict he'll do great things in his career."
The duo breezed through their first three rounds, but had a formidable challenge when it met Hannibal seniors Cliff Johnson and Ryan Juliano in the finals. In both sets, Garrett and Yokeley lost the first game, but never let the Pirates pull away.
The Owls won the final three games of the opening frame for a 6-4 decision. They took over in the middle of the second set, both holding serve while breaking Juliano's, to turn a 3-1 deficit into a 4-3 lead. At "add out" on Johnson's serve at 5-4, Yokeley -- earlier prompting assistant coach Paul Gieringer to comment that "he's flying all over the place" - fired a smash which Juliano couldn't handle, to secure the crown, 6-4.
"I play with him every day and he still does stuff which amazes me," Garrett marveled. "You can count on him."
In order to beat Chillicothe for the team title, 24 points to 21, and hold off rugged Hannibal (17), Marshall needed victories from other sources - and got them. None was so critical as that of freshman Jesse Murphy in singles.
In a first-round clash with Pirates sophomore Stephen Link, Murphy pulled out a pair of tiebreakers, 7-6 (7-3), 7-6 (7-3) -- coming back from a 5-2 deficit in the second set -- for an eight-point swing.
"That was huge," Carney said. "That was the best Jesse ever played in his life."
Although Murphy lost in the next match to an eventual medalist, Fulton senior Jonathan Kemp, he had done his part. So did junior Jeremy Gilpin with a 6-0, 6-1 rout of Mexico senior Jon Nossaman in his opener.
Seniors Andrew Murphy and Jose Benavides reached the semifinals with a pair of victories, but ran into Johnson and Juliano to suffer a 6-3, 6-2 setback. In the third-place match, the Owls jumped to a 5-0 lead in the Pro-10 format, but then lost eight of the nine games to lose, 10-7.
All, though, will get to keep playing at least one more week. The last time Marshall (12-5) reached the sectionals, it ran up against perennial powerhouse Mary Institute/Country Day School of St. Louis for a 6-0 quarterfinal loss.
Although the Owls have to visit the Country Day campus again, the Rams aren't in the field. Instead, St. Charles-Duchesne, Westminster Christian and Chillicothe -- none of which have ever advanced to the state team tourney -- are among the hurdles for Marshall to overcome if its is to return for the first time since its third straight appearance in '98.
"It's going to be very tough, but it's possible if they play like they did" in districts, Carney suggested. "We'll give it all we've got."
Celebrating the Marshall boys' tennis team's district championship were (bottom row, from left) assistant coach Paul Gieringer, Andrew Murphy, Blake Garrett, Myles Yokeley, (top row) assistant Tom Sandwith, Jose Benavides, Jeremy Gilpin, Jesse Murphy and head coach Susan Carney.