Ethan Neil had to scratch and claw in gusty conditions Friday morning just to earn a spot in the Class A singles final.
Once he got there, defending his state championship was a breeze.
The Papillion-La Vista junior was in control throughout the final, downing Lincoln Pius X’s Mason Warner 6-2, 6-0 at Koch Tennis Center.
“To come out and finish it means a lot,” said Neil, whose only loss this season came against Warner last month. “Mason’s a great player, I thought it would be a lot closer. I played well.”
The final was free of drama for Neil. All the suspense in No. 1 singles was used up in the semifinals, which also were played in windy conditions.
Warner outlasted Lincoln Southwest’s Joe Harris 7-6, 5-7, 6-3 in a match that lasted about 2½ hours. Warner rallied after trailing 5-0 to win the first set.
Not to be outdone, Neil and Elkhorn’s Zach Kuo played for more than three hours before Neil used a late break of serve to win 5-7, 7-5, 6-4. Kuo led 5-2 in the second set before Neil stormed back.
“My semifinal against Zach, we were both just trying to get used to it. It was creating some problems,” Neil said of the wind. “In (the final), I was just trying to use it to my advantage, take the shots that I could.”
Neil had less than an hour in between the end of his semifinal and start of the final. He ate a quick lunch, drank plenty of liquids and then won a final that lasted an hour — Neil was grateful for that.
“I just had to put it all out there,” he said.
Despite that loss, it still was a banner day for Pius, which moved up to Class A after winning Class B a year ago. The Thunderbolts won all four of their semifinals, which propelled them to team title.
“We knew we had to get three of the four into the finals to be in the hunt. Getting the fourth was just icing on the cake,” Pius coach Nolan DeWispelare said. “They played loose, they played free, they played the way we knew they could play.”
Pius, which returned five starters from last year’s title team, finished with 50 points. Southwest was second with 46.5 and Omaha Creighton Prep was next with 35.5. Will Ulrich was Pius’ lone individual champion, completing an undefeated season at No. 2 singles.
“Winning is always special,” DeWispelare said. “This is definitely cool because it’s our first tennis title in A. Hopefully it’s not our last.”
Southwest won both doubles finals. At No. 1 doubles, senior Nick O’Shea and junior Grady Works ended their season 39-0 with a 6-1, 6-4 finals win over Pius’ Will Olson and Joseph Plachy.
Team scores: Lincoln Pius X 50, Lincoln Southwest 46.5, Creighton Prep 35.5, Millard North 28.75, Papillion-La Vista 26, Lincoln East 21.75, Lincoln Southeast 20, Elkhorn 19, Elkhorn South 18.625, Millard West 18.25, Kearney 18.125, Papio South 14.25, Omaha Westside 12.5, Lincoln North Star 10, Fremont 9, Bellevue West 8, Bellevue East 6, Lincoln High 4, Millard South 4, Omaha Northwest 4, Gretna 2, Norfolk 2, Omaha Central 2, Columbus 0, Grand Island 0, Lincoln Northeast 0, North Platte 0, Omaha Benson 0, Omaha Bryan 0, Omaha Burke 0, Omaha North 0, Omaha South 0, South Sioux City 0
Individual results (top eight)
No. 1 singles: 1, Ethan Neil, PL, def. Mason Warner, LPX, 6-2, 6-0. 3, Zach Kuo, Elk, def. Joe Harris, LSW, 4-6, 7-5, 7-6 (3). 5, Alex Bigsby, Fre, def. Garret Starman, MN, 9-7. 7, Kenton Young, MW, def. Nathan Ramachandran, CP, 8-5. No. 2 singles: 1, Will Ulrich, LPX, def. Gavin Forster, CP, 6-3, 6-1. 3, Josh Rosenblatt, Westside, def. Jalan Zhu, MN, 6-4, 6-3. 5, Blake Benson, LSW, def. Jacob Whiston, LE, 8-5. 7, Joseph Kirshenbaum, ES, def. Cooper Wesslund, LNS, 8-5. No. 1 doubles: 1, Nick O’Shea/Grady Works, LSW, def. Will Olson/Joseph Plachy, LPX, 6-1, 6-4. 3, Andrew Doehner/Mac Nelson, CP, def. Graham Peterson/Grey Gergen, LSE, 6-4, 6-3. 5, Kirby Le/Jake Sundquist, LE, def. Max Jordan/Michael Day, ES, 8-5. 7, Neal Agarwal/Allan Muinov, MN, def. Ryan Mahalek/Sam Rademacher, Kearney, 8-4. No. 2 doubles: 1, Sam Johnson/Jacob Balfany, LSW, def. Thomas O’Donnell/Jase Woita, LPX, 6-3, 6-2. 3, Daniel Kowal/Josh Morales, CP, def. Ruthvick Kasireddy/Jonathon Sabirianov, MN, 6-1, 7-5. 5, Reese McReynolds/Josiah Thacker, LE, def. Daniel Brocaille/Nolan Ray, PS, 8-4. 7, Charles Brockmeier/Carson Elstermeier, Kearney, def. Tanner Klahn/Fletcher Kuper, MW, 8-6.