Metamora High School Boys Tennis

Tom Batters
Metamora High School boys tennis coach Kelly Willard meets with his team before a match against Washington last week. Willard, the state’s coach of the year last year, has the Redbirds in first place in the Mid-Illini Conference once again

METAMORA — Coaches use the word “rebuilding” all the time.

Sometimes, it means, “We’re terrible. I just use that word to make us sound good.”

Other times, it means, “We’re young and it might take us another year or two to be worth a darn.”

Sportswriters use that word, too.

I used it earlier in the season to describe the Metamora High School boys tennis team, which lost its top six players from last year and was relying on three freshmen and a foreign exchange student in key spots this year.

I expected a few losses as the younger players gained experience.

Boy, was I wrong.

Metamora (16-1) won at Morton and beat Normal U-High a couple weeks ago, before defeating Richwoods Thursday.

Morton was supposed to be the team to dethrone Metamora as the Mid-Illini Conference’s top team, a designation Metamora has owned since 2007.

Normal U-High, regarded as the top team in the Twin Cities, was supposed to overmatch the young Redbirds.

Richwoods is the top challenger to end Metamora’s streak of four straight Sectional titles.

Well, Metamora beat Morton, U-High and Richwoods pretty easily. Only the Richwoods match (a 6-3 victory) was somewhat close. The other two matches were fairly one-sided.

So, why are the Redbirds so good when they were supposed to be rebuilding?

It starts with Will Koehrsen, the freshman who has lost just one match (to Chandler Clayton of Richwoods Thursday).

Koehrsen smoked U-High’s ace 6-0, 6-2 a couple days after beating Morton freshman Grant Reiman 7-5, 6-3.

Metamora coach Kelly Willard was not surprised.

“I first met Will when he was seven years old, and, even back then, he did things that other players couldn’t do,” Willard said. “He’s always had that desire, much like his sister (three time Sectional champ Taylor Koehrsen), and he loves competing.”

Fellow freshman Mitchell Nguyen and junior Quinn Vaughn make up the No. 1 doubles team.

They lost only four matches all year. One of them was a three-set heartbreaker to Morton’s Reiman brothers.

Willard said they are still learning how to play doubles the “Metamora way,” but they are getting better with each match.

“Mitchell was thrown into the fire,” Willard said. “Quinn has helped him out a lot. Doubles is harder than you might think. You have to know where you’re supposed to be and where your partner is all the time. Those two are becoming a pretty good team.”

The unsung heroes, Willard said, are the guys in the middle — senior Petr Vesely, sophomore Christoph Goettler and freshman Tyler Ngo.

“You need five points to win. No. 6 singles counts just as much as No. 1 does,” Willard said. “Those guys in the middle have won some big matches for us ... (Against Morton) Quinn rolled over a very good player, and Tyler beat a third-year player who had more experience.”

Vesely, a foreign exchange student from the Czech Republic, only has three losses in the No. 2 singles spot.

Willard, in his 14th season at Metamora, was the state’s coach of the year after leading the Redbirds to a Sectional title and top 10 finish at the state tournament.

I asked him if he should take some of the credit for the Redbirds’ surprise hot start.

He laughed, and said, “There have been a few more learning moments this season, but, no, I don’t deserve credit. The players do. It’s a great group of kids. They work hard, and they love to play tennis. What coach wouldn’t love to have that kind of group?”

Well said.

But, I’ll give him credit anyway.

Under a less qualified (and less confident) coach, would this young team be this good?

Probably not.

A lesser coach might have used the “rebuilding” word. Instead, Willard pointed to the fence where the “Sectional Champion” banners are displayed, and said, “We want another one of those.”

I’m starting to believe that he might get his wish.

Tom Batters is sports editor of the Woodford Times. He can be reached at 686-3261, or tbatters@timestoday.com.