Playing against a familiar foe in the boys tennis regional semifinals at Marion on Tuesday evening, Doug Porter and the Marion Giants knew they would have a fight on their hands against Tim Cleland and the perennially loaded Delta Eagles.
As is always the case, predictably, battles ensued between these evenly matched teams across all five matches, but in the end, slow starts at No. 3 singles and No. 2 doubles, together with a tough matchup at No. 1 doubles, proved to be the difference, as the Eagles advanced to the regional championship with a 3-2 win over the Giants.
“Delta played strong tonight,” Marion Head Coach Doug Porter said. “They were the stronger team.”
Despite another pair of remarkable performances at No. 1 and 2 singles by Vikram Oddiraju and Jack Fauser, the Giants were unable to secure that crucial third point.
Delta had firepower across the board, particularly in doubles. Walker Boyle and Brandon Jackson made quick work of their match against Soren Bruehler and Elijah Maki, recording the Eagles’ first point with a 6-0, 6-1 victory.
Marion struggled to get going at No. 2 doubles, as Clayton Drook and Ryan Sebastian fell 6-1 in the first set. They were much improved in the second set, but it was not enough as the pair fell 6-1, 6-3 to Jordan Ashton and Riley Windsor.
“We didn’t have the start we needed at No. 2 doubles,” Porter said. “For some reason, we were not in tune with what we needed to do, and it just took us a while to get going. Once the second set got going, we did. We fought hard those last couple of games. We just didn’t start quick enough.”
At No. 3 singles, Delta countered Alex Spitzer with Adam Altobella, who used an effective combination of technique and power to take control of the match early. After Altobella won the first set 6-2, Spitzer began to find his groove, going toe-to-toe with his opponent throughout the second set. The two played to a 5-5 tie, but Altobella was able to win the final two games to earn a 6-2, 7-5 triumph and help punch Delta’s ticket to the regional final.
“Altobella had a lot of firepower, and he was on for most of the match tonight,” Porter said. “He was really strong with his forehand, and just didn’t get off to the start we needed tonight. To Alex’s credit, he fought back and did not quit. I admire Alex for his determination, and he battled. We just weren’t strong enough there at that position.”
While the Giants would not repeat as regional champions, their top two singles competitors played excellent tennis all evening. Fauser finished out his outstanding Marion career with a 6-0, 6-2 victory, dominating the first set and using that momentum to carry him through the rest of the match.
Fauser recorded his 87th win, putting him in a tie for fifth place on Marion’s all-time win list. Only Jim Bove (101), Brandon Dubuque (99), Robert Rhamy (91), and Jay Smithley (88) have won more matches than Fauser. Additionally, he finished the season 23-2, and only had six sets where his opponents won more than two games.
From his early days of playing doubles as a freshman through his tremendous senior campaign, Fauser grew exponentially as a tennis player in every facet and played a key role in the Marion tennis program’s continued success.
“He was a great leader and captain, and I was just lucky enough to coach him and get to know him, not only as a player, but as a person,” Porter said. “Jack Fauser the person is what is going to stick out to me the most. What a great guy, and he’s got such a great future ahead of him in life.”
Oddiraju, playing against a tremendous tennis player in Tanner Southerland, needed to win a pair of tiebreakers to keep his season alive for the individual tournament. Oddiraju battled back from a 4-3 and 5-4 deficit to win the first set 7-6 (7-2) and withstood a furious rally in the second set to win 7-6 (7-3). Oddiraju will move on to face Muncie Burris standout Charlie Behrman on Wednesday evening.
“Vikram had to work hard to win that one, so congratulations to Vikram for moving on in the single tournament,” Porter said.
Oddiraju and Fauser have certainly left their mark over their four years, winning a combined 168 matches, and helping the Giants capture three straight sectional championships and a regional title in 2019.
“I’m the luckiest coach alive. It’s hard to believe it’s coming to an end with those two,” Porter said. “I just feel like my relationship this year has been very special, and I am just glad I’ve had the season with everything that’s gone on in the outside world, I’m just lucky to have been able to coach them.”