WESTFIELD TWP. — The first part of the job is done. Now the members of the Cloverleaf boys tennis team are out to finish it.
The Colts clinched the mythical Portage Trail Conference regular-season title Tuesday with an impressive 4-1 win over Norton, putting them in the driver’s seat when it comes to earning the program’s first overall crown since winning the Suburban League in 2008.
Cloverleaf (12-0, 8-0) is three games up on the Panthers (9-7, 5-3) and Woodridge with two matches to play, meaning the only way it won’t earn at least a share of the overall crown is by finishing third or lower at the six-team league tournament.
“We never expected this,” said coach Mike McGee, whose team finished fourth in the PTC last season. “It was our goal, but we had never beaten Norton or Woodridge before this year.”
The Colts, whose three singles players are a combined 33-2 overall and 24-0 in PTC matches this season, were 0-6 vs. the Panthers and Bulldogs in their three prior years in the league but are 3-0 in 2019 heading into a home meeting against Woodridge this afternoon.
“It feels amazing, especially since it’s been since 2008,” said freshman first singles player Joe Donnelly, who improved to 11-1, 8-0 with a 6-3, 6-0 victory over Matt Anderson. “This is what it’s all about. It’s an honor to be part of this.
“We definitely want to close out undefeated and get the highest seedings possible. At the tournament, we want to get as many wins as possible. We have a strong team overall.”
Like Donnelly, second singles player George Gillespie (10-1, 8-0) and No. 3 Frank English (12-0, 8-0) are guaranteed of being seeded No. 1 at the PTC Tournament.
The left-handed Donnelly, who plays soccer in the fall and picked up tennis two years ago after watching his sister Grace compete for the girls team, is just 5-foot-7 and 140 pounds but uses intelligence and excellent conditioning to wear down opponents.
“This is what I’ve been training for,” he said. “I’m meeting my self-expectations, which I’m happy about.”
Gillespie, a senior who earned All-Gazette honors after winning 14 matches at first singles last season, defeated Jed Swym 6-1, 6-2 at second singles on a very windy afternoon.
“The wind was really tricky,” he said. “When you’re looking at the ball, you’re always predicting where it will go.”
Gillespie’s match was the first to end, and not long after the second doubles team of Jacob Ewart and Parker Gregoire avenged an earlier loss to Deven Horvath and Caleb Campbell by winning 6-3, 6-4. Moments later, Donnelly completed his match, guaranteeing Cloverleaf of the regular-season title.
The unbeaten English, an honorable mention All-Gazette pick last year as a junior, provided icing on the cake by battling back for a 3-6, 6-0, 7-5 victory over Connor Kropp.
On an overwhelmingly positive day for the Colts, even the first doubles team of Brennen Lavery and Caleb Porcello showed marked improvement from the first meeting with Norton before falling 6-3, 6-4 to Jared Thomas and Seth Brunty.
“That’s a really good feeling, knowing we can pull together as a team,” Gillespie said. “As individual as tennis is, it’s still a team sport, especially when it comes to conference matches. We’re all really close, and it’s showing in the way we’re playing.”
Cloverleaf 4, Norton 1
Singles: Joe Donnelly (C) def. Matt Anderson, 6-3, 6-0; George Gillespie (C) def. Jed Swym, 6-1, 6-2; Frank English (C) def. Connor Kropp, 3-6, 6-0, 7-5. Doubles: Jared Thomas/Seth Brunty (N) def. Brennen Lavery/Caleb Porcello, 6-3, 6-4; Jacob Ewart/Parker Gregoire (C) def. Deven Horvath/Caleb Campbell, 6-3, 6-4. Records: Norton (9-7, 5-3), Cloverleaf (12-0, 8-0).