A Momentous Ending to the Season


Matthew Schott

Senior Drew Black throws the ball into the air to serve it during a Varsity Districts match on May 11. This was one of the matches which helped him and his doubles partner junior Konnor Eslinger qualify for state.

Sweat was beading on their faces as they passed the ball from their end of the court, over the net and onto their opponents side. Tensions were high, yet they didn’t feel scared. Deep down, they knew they had a shot. They had prepared for this moment all year and they had already made it so far. There was a chance. Suddenly, the whistle blew signifying the end of the game. Senior Drew Black and junior Konnor Eslinger stood there for a moment as their teammates stood on the sidelines screaming. They had just won their first match at state, making them the first boys doubles team in FHC history to do so.

On May 19, Black and Eslinger made FHC history after winning their first match in the class 3 state doubles tournament against a duo from Kickapoo High School 2-1. The boys had made it to state the previous year, but lost their first match. Following the loss, both Black and Eslinger worked hard for the chance to go to state once again and progress further than before. This started by practicing with their teammates and family members through the summer.

“All summer I just played with my dad a lot at my neighborhood courts,” Black explained. “And then… I also did at Veta West… a tennis clinic there and then I [just did] tournaments throughout all of the offseason, pretty much.”

For both Black and Eslinger, the main skills they needed to work on came not physically, but mentally. Eslinger described what he took away from the previous season which shaped his goals for the 2022 season.

“I kind of just worked on improving my confidence and just getting more comfortable,” Eslinger said.

Black mentioned how his mental outlook had improved from the previous season.

“I would start losing and I’d always get mad at myself and just go down,” Black said. “This year I was just like tougher mentally. I was never out of it. I was always there.”

Throughout the main season, the team beat a lot of teams they did not beat the previous year. When it came time for the final match, the one determining whether or not the two would get a second shot at state, Black said they went in with a relaxed mindset which gained more excitement as the match progressed.

“I think we all went in just like, ‘We have nothing to lose pretty much. We’re just gonna play,’ Black explained. “I was really focused. And after the first set, we were getting excited. And like, two games from it… the energy was so high. And like the final point we were all screaming, it was so so exciting!”

Black described his reaction after realizing he was going to state for a second time.

“I was tearing up a little bit because I was finally going back there like I wanted to do to complete the senior year,” Black expressed. “It wouldn’t have been complete without that, so [I] was so glad it finally happened.”

I was tearing up a little bit because I was finally going back there like I wanted to do to complete the senior year. It wouldn’t have been complete without that, so [I] was so glad it finally happened.”

— Drew Black

Eslinger also shared that same excitement.

“[I was] excited to get to go again and just like, try to do better than we did last year,” Eslinger said.

However, Black and Eslinger, along with the other members of the team who qualified for state, would soon face another challenge when their head coach, Jeremy Rohrbach, was quarantined less than five days before the event. The team’s part-time assistant coach, Mr. Patrick Reed, was informed on Monday, May 16, at 9:47pm that he would be filling in for Coach Rohrbach and taking the boys to state. He described the emotions he felt when he found out about the change of plans. 

“I felt….stressed,” Mr. Reed said. “I am a control freak, and this was something where you just say, ‘Okay, here we go!’ The preparation to be gone… was intense for me.”

Mr. Reed used his unexpected leadership to impart some wisdom to the boys before they went out and played. He described how some of his advice ended up morphing into a mantra for the team. 

“There was a ton but… the real meaning to the advice became a one word mantra… ‘forward,’” Mr. Reed explained. “I kept reminding them.  Even through ‘shoving’ hand motions.  I wanted them strategically ‘forward,’ and I wanted all action ‘forward.’  I wanted their every mindset in all things tennis to be ‘forward.’”

The mantra seemingly worked as Black and Eslinger historically won their first match. Their win sparked a wave of excitement in both the team and Mr. Reed. Black described how he felt after winning his first match. 

“I felt freaking game… because nobody’s ever won a set at state let alone a match and we won a match,” Black said. 

Mr. Reed mentioned how he felt in one word. 

“Elation,” Mr. Reed said. “I knew it was history.  So did they.  We mobbed each other after the handshakes.  They broke my sunglasses!”

To celebrate their win, the team called Coach Rohrbach on the phone after the match to tell him the news. Additionally, Mr. Reed took a special relic from the match. 

“I kept three balls from the match,” Mr. Reed explained. “One for Konnor, one for Drew, and one for Coach Harris. It was their trophy. No one can ever take that away from them.”

Though Black and Eslinger lost their second match 2-0, they did learn some valuable lessons from the experience. Black describes what he learned. 

“I’d say to be grateful… because… pretty much nobody ever gets to go down there [and] we’ve got to go down twice,” Black expressed. “Cherish every moment because this is the last year and then [I’m] never gonna go back there. So it’s just trying to enjoy every moment of it.”

Eslinger mentioned how the experience taught him that the impossible can be possible. 

“It definitely gave us a lot more confidence… like it can be done,” Eslinger said. “It’s knowing that nobody else would ever really even imagined state… and kind of just had a mental barrier. And then once we got past that we’re pretty good.”

Senior Drew Black and junior Konnor Eslinger give each other a low high five following a play during their districts match. (Matthew Schott)

As the boys tennis season comes to an end, it is time for reflection on the past and planning for the future. With Black off to Missouri Baptist University in the fall, Eslinger is now faced with the choice of if he wants to continue doubles with a new partner or compete in singles. However, he seems to have a strong idea of what he plans to do. 

“I probably won’t go to state for doubles next year,” Eslinger said. “I’ll probably try singles.”

As Black leaves the tennis program he’s been playing in since his freshman year, he recounts how he’s seen it change since he first joined. 

“I think… the thing we try to focus on is having fun, but also getting better,” Black described. “I feel like we should push people we encounter because we’re the leaders of the team, so we just push people to be better. That’s why we had a good year because we got everybody in the offseason playing.”

Though Black intends on continuing his tennis journey in college, leaving the tennis program at FHC is still bittersweet. 

“It’s just, I love the sport forever,” Black said. “I’m never gonna forget these four years, [they’re] so special to me.”