By Kyle Daubs
Wouldn’t it be a fitting way for Dwight Perry to leave?
The longtime girls’ tennis coach finished up his final season in the fall and will complete his final season coaching alongside head coach Joey Boyer after this season.
With the Apollo Conference Championships taking place this weekend at Charleston High School, the Green Wave will have that opportunity to win the conference title and allow Perry to ride away into the proverbial sunset.
Mattoon enters the Apollo Conference tournament with a 5-2 overall record in dual meets. Plus, Tejas Zala is a favorite to win the Apollo singles championship at No. 1 while Boyer believes that Josh Ramage, Pierce Farmer, and Ethan Bahney have a chance to compete for the other singles championships.
Doubles matches will be played Friday night and singles matches will take place at both Charleston High and Eastern Illinois University starting Saturday morning.
“They are skilled and have experience,” said Boyer. “Tejas is an excellent player that can compete with anyone. Two years ago, he won a singles championship in the Apollo, and I believe he would have won another last year if we had a season.”
Mattoon will have significant competition from Mount Zion. The Braves enter Apollo play with a 7-2 record. Braves coach Mike Roberts believes that three of his singles players should contend for All-Apollo honors.
“I would say that I have three strong contenders for All-Apollo this year,” said Roberts. “Senior Francis Velasco (No. 1 single), junior Lane Fehrenbacher (No. 2 singles) and junior Rylee Gower (No. 4 singles).”
Francis is 3-4 at No. 1 singles with losses to two former state qualifiers while Lane is 6-3 at No. 2 singles.
There is a good chance we might see Mattoon and Mount Zion in the doubles championships as well.
Mattoon’s teams of Zala and Bahney and Ramage and Farmer are each 5-2.
“They understand their roles on their team and are hungry to get better every day,” said Boyer. “They support each other out there on the court even when things are not going their way. If they play up to their capabilities, they will be there at the end.”
Mt. Zion’s doubles team of Velasco and Fehrenbacker are 5-3 with losses to University High, Dunlap and Olney.
Roberts said Gower, who is 7-2, should be competitive in both singles and doubles. Gower is 7-2 at No. 4 and 8-2 with Will Shade at No. 2 doubles.
“He is a fierce competitor,” said Roberts.
Charleston’s Adam Rudibaugh owns a win over Mattoon at No. 3 singles, and he teamed with Vince DiNaso to nearly defeat Mattoon’s No. 1 doubles.
Teutopolis has a young, inexperienced squad that has gone 0-3. “It’s a learning year for our players and team,” said coach Andy Mersman. “I don’t know a lot about the other teams in the Apollo, but I think every team is competitive.”
Due to the limited number of matches, many teams in the Apollo haven’t played each other this season. Effingham lost to both Charleston and Mt. Zion this season.
“We have only played Charleston so far this year, but I have had conversations with Mike Roberts and know that he (Effingham) has a very competitive team,” said Boyer. I also know that, year in and year out, Teutopolis is really good and Effingham always has a dangerous team. I put my Mattoon team in that group and we will see who plays the best tennis this weekend.”
Roberts feels the same about his squad being a contender for the Apollo title, but the two-time sectional champion-winning head coach knows that anything can happen.
“I would like to think that we would be one of the teams with a serious shot at winning the Apollo, but here is what I have found over the years,” said Roberts. “The Apollo Conference is always competitive and has well-coached teams. Players need to show up to play hard. I have seen players in the past have their best showing at the conference tournament rather than at the state tournament. I consider this due to the team spirit and camaraderie felt at the conference and wanting to represent teams and schools well. Anything can happen.”
Who: Apollo Conference Boys Tennis
Teams: Mattoon, Charleston, Lincoln, Mount Zion, Effingham, Teutopolis
**Taylorville and Mahomet-Seymour do not have boys tennis teams
Time: 1:00 p.m. on Friday, 9:30 a.m on Saturday
Top Singles Contenders to Watch: Francis Velasco (MTZ), Tejas Zala (Mattoon), Lane Fehrenbacher (MTZ), Thad Dillow (EHS)
Top Doubles Contenders to Watch: Zala & Bahney (Mattoon), Rudibaugh & DiNaso (CHS), Velasco & Fehrenbacher (MTZ)