Mark Noe hardly could have been prouder.
Cathedral High School’s boys tennis team in 2017 again played one of Indiana’s toughest schedules, and the Irish had tough going through part of that schedule for a second consecutive season.
But the Irish improved throughout ’17. They fought throughout the season as well.
The result was a team playing better at the end of the season than it was at the beginning, and a team that once again finished among the top 15 boys tennis programs in Indiana.
“The year was good,” Noe, the Irish’s tennis coach, said recently.
The Irish finished 8-9 for a second consecutive season, and for a second consecutive season they did not lose to a lower-ranked team in the state of Indiana.
“It was a good season,” Noe said. “We had some talent, and a bunch of good kids.”
The Irish, who won the City Championship for the 11th consecutive season, lost 5-0 to North Central in the sectional semifinal at North Central on September 27.
The Irish this season lost to No. 1-ranked Carmel, No. 2 North Central (twice), No. 3 Brebeuf, No. 4 Homestead, No. 5 Park Tudor, No. 8 Fishers, No. 10 Guerin Catholic, No. 11 Floyd Central. The Irish beat then No. 23 Hamilton Southeastern on September 20.
“The schedule is great, but it’s the toughest schedule in the state,” Noe aid. “If we wished to do that [go after wins] we could do that. These guys want to play against the best.”
They finished third at the John Shirley Invitational at North Central on August 26, and finished third at the Fort Wayne Carroll Invitational on September 2. The Carroll tournament featured seven teams ranked in the Top 30 in the state.
The Irish competed in the Buckley Division at the prestigious Shirley tournament, with Eli and Ethan Eckhart winning No. 1 doubles. It was the third consecutive year Eli Eckhart won all three rounds at the Shirley to win the doubles title.
“When we went out, we beat teams we needed to,” Noe said. “That’s good. I was proud of the kids.”
Cathedral finished No. 15 in the final 2017 Indiana High School Tennis Coaches Association rankings.
The Irish this season were:
Abe Wojtalik at No. 1 singles, senior and four-year letterman Brendon Vail at No. 2 singles, freshman Eli Wojtalik at No. 3 singles, senior Eli and Ethan Eckhart at No. 1 doubles and seniors Kevin Cooke and Jack Haigerty at No. 2 doubles.
The Eckharts only had three losses in 2017 – once to Carmel and two to North Central.
“We were lacking a superstar, but I will say: there was a lot of improvement over the year,” Noe said. “Here’s the thing about this team: they fight. They fight hard. They didn’t always have the finishing touch, but they fought.”
Noe said Abe Wojtalik, who played some of the state’s best individual players while playing No. 1 singles, had a chance to be named the Irish’s most improved player.
“He’s a fighter,” Noe said.
Noe said despite the loss of Vail, Eckhart, Cooke and Haigerty, the Irish have the core of a strong team returning.
“We look good for next year,” Noe said. “We’ll be great singles. We’ll have to get our doubles going. It’s sort of the opposite this year. Our doubles were pretty good all year.”
And Noe said that was true of the Irish overall – that despite a tough schedule, the team improved and showed it again very much belonged among the state’s top programs.
“My approach was incremental improvement the whole year, stay off your own back and improve,” Noe said. “They were giving it their all and that was good to see. You don’t see guys out there on the ground. Even if we’re being outgunned or not as talented as the other team, at least we fought to the bitter end.
“i’ve got to give it to them on that. Even though it was a tough road, the boys had a lot of fun.”