That was then, this is now

Tom Batters
Will Koehrsen

Last year, the Metamora High School boys tennis team dominated the Mid-Illini Conference, won its fourth straight Sectional title and finished in the top 10 at the state tournament.

Coach Kelly Willard was named the state’s coach of the year.

Stephan Rauh was the only singles player outside the Chicago area to finish in the top 16 in the state.

The doubles team of Nate Wilson and David Stewart also finished in the top 16.

The Redbirds went 21-1 in dual matches and won every conference match by a 9-0 score.

It was a dream season, but the dream is over and Willard is left with the youngest, most inexperienced team he has ever had in his 14 years at Metamora.

All six of Metamora’s state qualifiers are gone (five seniors graduated and sophomore Kevin Wang transferred to Richwoods).

“The kids we lost had a total of 695 match wins,” Willard said. “That’s a lot. We don’t have a single player returning who has ever played in the conference tournament...”

Rather than go on and on about the lack of experience, Willard interrupts his thought and says, “But, we have some players. We’re going to compete. Most people realize that top 10 in the state is not going to happen every year. We’re not going to be at that level again this year. But, we expect to be one of the top teams in the area. That goal never changes.”

A trio of freshmen with familiar last names will help offset the loss of all those seniors, Willard said.

Will Koehrsen, Mitchell Nguyen and Tyler Ngo, younger brothers of standout Metamora girls tennis players Taylor Koehrsen, Megan Nguyen and Rachel Ngo, will compete for top spots.

Newcomer Peter Vesely, a foreign exchange student from the Czech Republic, is also in the mix.

“Will has played a lot of matches. He’s only a freshman, but he has more match experience than most kids his age,” Willard said. “And, he has that extra gear. He knows when to put his foot on the gas and close out a match.”

Junior Quinn Vaughn will compete for one of the top singles spots and senior David Schrader is one of the top returning doubles players, Willard said.

In order to keep its stronghold on the Mid-Illini Conference, the Redbirds will have to get past Morton, which also has a pair of talented freshmen.

The Reiman twins (Grant and Trent) will make an impact right away, Willard said. They are the younger brothers of former state qualifier Brock Reiman.

State qualifier Taylor Nave also returns to the Potters, who are looking to improve on their fourth place conference finish (their lowest in the history of the conference).

Dunlap lost its top two players, which leaves the door open for Washington and Pekin to compete for a conference title.

The Panthers, who are 0-77 against Metamora, Morton and Dunlap since 1994, return their two top players (sophomore Brian Kinas and junior Dan Nulte).

Pekin returns state qualifier and Mid-Illini Conference singles runner-up Derek Ringenberg. Erik Smith (state qualifier and doubles runner-up) also returns to the Dragons, who were 10-1 in dual matches last year.

“Morton will be much better, and Pekin and Washington have some good players. It might be a down year for Dunlap,” Willard said. “There will be some good matches in the conference. It should be an interesting season.”

The Redirds will compete in the Red and White Invite starting at 9 a.m. Saturday at Metamora High School.

Willard said, because of the lack of experience, the early part of the season is important.

“We’ll have a lot of guys who are learning what it takes to win matches at the varsity level,” he said. “We can do a lot in practice, but you just have to go out and get that match experience. I’m hoping we can win some matches early on, and the kids can get some confidence.”

Metamora opens conference play March 31 at home against East Peoria.