By Bruce Wigg
After beginning the year playing in gloves and parkas, the high school tennis season came to a conclusion on a sunny Saturday, with temperatures pushing into the mid-90s at the State Tournament at Byrnes Park in Waterloo.
Rhett Peters, the lone qualifier for Union this year, was outstanding in his initial appearance at the tournament. Because he finished second at Districts to Daniel Buchanan of Waterloo Columbus, Rhett was not eligible to receive a seed, placed instead in the draw of 16. At the State Tournament, the top four players are seeded, followed next by the District Champions, then, finally, the district runners-up are allocated spots remaining in the bracket.
Rhett drew a tough first round match against District Champion Cade Carpenter of Spencer, who sported a 14-0 record. His serve was hard and accurate, but Rhett had the answer, blocking back the serve and pushing the ball with pace and accuracy of his own. A straight sets victory (6-3, 6-3) led to a second round match-up against fourth seeded Reed Miller (21-3) of Council Bluffs St. Albert. Rhett’s consistency and poise resulted in a relatively easy 6-1, 6-0 victory over the slice and dice game of Miller. The win advanced Rhett into the semi-finals, a first for Union High School. Union’s only other place-winner in tennis (boys or girls) was foreign exchange student Boris Fitz, who placed sixth in 1990.
As Saturday morning’s matches began, the heat didn’t let up. Rhett was now facing the top seeded player in the tournament and last year’s state championship doubles player, Jon Lansing of Cedar Rapids Xavier. Lansing came into the tournament with a 13-4 record, but undefeated against players in Class 1A. Lansing’s smooth as silk strokes and power were too much for Peters, who valiantly fought for every point, losing out many deuce games to Lansing’s superb shot making abilities. Rhett lost the match, 0-6, 1-6, moving him into the consolation match for 3rd place against a very familiar opponent, Buchanan of Columbus.
Buchanan had beaten Peters 6-2, 6-1 in the district final so Rhett knew an uphill battle would be in the offering. The first set was a test of patience and somewhat tentative shots by both players. The early afternoon heat was definitely taking its toll, as Buchanan eked out a 7-5 first set win. Changing tactics, an aggressive, “all or nothing” mindset allowed the Union sophomore to make a comeback in the second set, but it was too little too late, as the Columbus player took the second set 6-3 to win the match. Rhett’s fourth place finish at the State Tennis Tournament is the highest placement in school history.
I am so very proud of Rhett’s efforts. He played with two blisters on his hand for the entire weekend, was pushed mentally and physically to the limit, and her persevered with a great showing. Rhett has a style of tennis that allows him to play with anyone in the state. He can hit hard, he can play the percentages, he can play excellently at the net, retrieve a lot of shots that most would not even attempt to get to, and has a mental toughness that keeps him making supreme efforts, even in the face of much adversity.
His father, Randy, and uncle Rich were also players of mine and he has attributes reminiscent of each of them at different times during his game. I would like to credit them for his development over the years. He is fun to coach and be around.
Congratulations, Rhett, on a great season and hopefully, hope for the future of Union Knights boys tennis.