In front of his teammates, family, friends and some serious wind, Ethan Neil once again was crowded No. 1 singles state champion for Papillion-La Vista. Neil won the title last season as a sophomore and had his sights on defending his crown.
The No. 1 seeded Neil cruised through the field on Thursday to make it to the semifinal match against Elkhorn's Zachary Kuo. However, Kuo gave Neil all he could handle, winning the first set 7-5 and taking a 5-2 lead in the second.
Neil rallied and won the second set 7-5 and took the decisive third set 6-4 to win the match. This match lasted over three hours and was intense all the way throughout. According to Neil, it helped jump start him heading into the final.
"It gave me momentum for my championship match for sure." Neil said. "I learned how to deal with the wind more, I think we were both adapting to that, and then for this finals match I was able to go through my shots more and play more of my game."
Speaking of the wind, it was a factor at times for the players at Koch today. Neil talked about how it affected him and how to deal with it.
"When you’re against it you just have to hit as hard as you can and when you are with it you have the spin so the main two things I focus on are just depth and spin so that the ball lands in and having big margins."
In the championship match, Neil did not let it get dramatic. He took down Mason Warner of Lincoln Pius X 6-2 and 6-0 to win the state title. Neil was 29-1 heading into the tournament and the one loss came to Warner in the Capital City Invitational.
Neil got into a groove in this match and said the short break helped him stay consistent.
"It was a combination of a few things. After that first match I didn’t get much of a break so I was going out there more loose. I knew that he was a good opponent so if I don’t play my game it was going to be a problem so I just went out there and just swung through my shots and got in a groove."
Neil credited his off season work and the year round preparation he does to keep him at the top of his game and bringing his best at the biggest stage.
"I am already playing a tournament next weekend and then one two weeks after that so I play a ton of tennis and USTA Missouri Valley tournaments. During high school I get out of school at 1 every day for early release and online classes and I’ll go and hit before practice with my coach or my practice match and just keep practicing and grinding."
Neil also had a huge supporting cast watching both of his matches and that helps fuel him.
"It helps a ton." Neil said about his support group. "I have a bunch of good friends on my tennis team and more that came out to watch and my family. They all support me through everything, win or lose, and it helps to have a supporting crowd behind me."