Two years ago, Tyce Bertlshofer was sitting idly by, watching the spring sports go bye bye and hoping the COVID-19 pandemic wouldn’t wipe out the summer sports, too.
Last spring, Bertlshofer decided it was time to make the most of every opportunity afforded him. So, for the first time in his life, he picked up a tennis racket and tried out for the Burlington High School boys tennis team.
This year, the BHS senior is one of the top singles players around.
On Tuesday, Bertlshofer did what he set out to do at the end of last season. Bertlshofer downed teammate Richie Bliesener, 6-4, 6-0, to win the Southeast Conference singles championship at the Dankwardt Memorial Park Tennis Courts.
On a hot, windy day, not even a black, long-sleeve sweater could keep Bertlshofer from achieving his goal.
“It’s awesome. That was my goal from last year was to come to conference and put up a good fight,” Bertlshofer said. “To walk away with the win is really cool. I’ve only been playing tennis for a couple years, to have an accomplishment like this is really big. It means a lot to me.”
“It was cool having Rich and Tyce play each other in the championship match,” BHS boys tennis coach Brian Mumm said.
It was a banner day for the Grayhounds, who won the regular season conference title and, had team scores been kept at the tournament, would have won that, as well.
Bliesener pulled off the biggest upset of the day in the singles semifinals. He knocked off Keokuk senior Ivan Lopez, 7-6 (7-4), 7-6 (10-8). It also was Bliesener’s first tiebreaker victory, but the marathon win took its toll on him for the championship match.
“I was a little exhausted because the match before I had to go to a 10-point tiebreaker and took about 2 1/2 hours to do all that in the heat,” Bliesener said. “I had to drink lots of water. It was a tough match. I played Ivan before. He’s a very good player from Spain. That was a very difficult match. I really have accomplished a lot this season. There’s always mistakes, but my serving has improved and also my backhand. Just keeping it in play.”
“Rich and Tyce playing in the finals was a first for me,” Mumm said. “Rich had a pretty big upset in the semifinals. The kid from Keokuk is a really good player. That was a very exciting match to watch. You don’t get to see that a whole lot in tennis.”
Bliesener kept the first set against Bertlshofer, battling back from 5-2 down to within 5-4 before Bertlshofer won.
Bliesener simply ran out of gas in the second set.
“The sun blaring in my eyes on my serves, it gave me a little extra oomph,” Bliesener said. “This one deserves a win. You’ve got to put the drive for it. Don;’t put your head down. Just keep it in play.”
“I started off playing with long sleeves,” Bertlshofer said. “My first couple matches were pretty quick, but that last one I had to take it off. It was brutal. The sun was beating and the wind didn’t help much, either. Long day, good result.”
The Grayhounds doubled their pleasure in doubles as the team of Jack Carlson and Hunter Ford squared off against teammates Owen Fawcett and Mason Rachowicz. After falling behind, 4-0, Carlson and Ford stormed back to win, 9-8 (7-4).
“We weren’t really taking it seriously. It’s hard to take it serious against our teammates. It was fun,” Carlson said.
“I told Jack let’s stop messing around so we can actually win this and get a medal,” Ford said. “We knew it was going to be a fun match. We weren’t really taking it seriously at the start, but when we got down 0-4, we couldn’t let them show us up like that.”Carlson and Ford gave eventual doubles champions Garrett Flanagan and Jace Hannes all they could handle before the Fairfield duo prevailed, 6-4, 6-4, in the semifinals.
Flanagan and Hannes would go on to defeat Jake Ensminger and Owen Vansickel of Mount Pleasant, 6-1, 6-3 in the final.
“That as pretty intense. Every point seemed like it got hotter and hotter with the tension and closing in. It was super fun, though,” Carlson said. “Me and Tyce played them in doubles. We got pretty close to beating them. We thought we could beat them today, but it didn’t come out that way.”
“They are a really good team. They play into my advantages. They hit the ball hard and I like to rally back and forth in the deep court,” Ford said. “Jack is good at the net. He’s tall. He is good for us. He’s good for spiking the ball. I play back most of the time and he plays up. It works out pretty well.”
Burlington won’t have much time to rest on its laurels, or recover from the long day in the heat and wind. The Grayhounds will travel to play Ottumwa in a Class 2A substate semifinal team dual on Friday at Ottumwa.
“Any time you have all six players and we’re the last three matches of the day still out on the court, that’s pretty good,” Mumm said. “I was tickled to death. There is no team score, but outright we won the conference. We didn’t lose at all this year. If there was a team score here, we would have probably won easily.”
Matt Levins is a sports reporter for the USA TODAY Network in Burlington, Iowa, who has covered local sports for 31 years. Reach him at [email protected]