Three weeks ago, Culver Academy handed Valparaiso a 4-1 defeat on the tennis courts. Given that the Eagles were ranked No. 17 in the state, the score was not too much of a surprise.
But Valpo’s Marty Pochop had a different perspective.
“We knew the match was much closer than the score indicated,” Pochop said. “We knew we were not that far away from being very competitive against them.”
Buoyed by optimism, the Vikings worked hard to improve over the next few weeks. The hard work came to fruition last Saturday when Valpo defeated that same Culver team 4-1 to advance to the 46th Annual Team State Tournament in Indianapolis.
Pochop was a big part of climbing that mountain. After losing to No. 2 singles player Sam Concannon 7-5, 7-6 the first time around, Pochop changed his game.
“I tried to muscle everything past him the first time around,” Pochop said. “For the rematch, I adjusted to high-angle shots to keep him moving on the court. I also mixed the speed of my shots to throw off his timing.”
The result was a dominating 6-2, 6-2 win for Pochop. It was his 24th victory of the year against only one loss.
“I was really proud of the way I was able to make adjustments that helped out my team,” Pochop said. “We all worked very hard these last three weeks. It was great to see the reward at the end.”
Coach Tim Shideler was not surprised that Pochop and the rest of the Vikings team were able to climb to new heights.
“This is one of the hardest-working teams I have had,” Shideler said. “Marty is a great example of that. Last year he got the Viking award, which was voted on by his teammates.”
The Viking Award is given to the player who displays the best combination of pride, hustle, and dedication.
“His teammates look up to Marty,” Shideler said. “They see how hard he works and how serious he takes the game. That inspires them to be better.”
Pochop has been all-district and all-conference three times each. He is a four-year letterman and sports a 73-15 overall record.
“I am very proud of what I have been able to accomplish so far,” Pochop said. “But we want to advance further in the state tournament. We do not want to just be happy we got this far.”
That attitude is one of Pochop’s strong suits, according to Shideler.
“Marty is a talented, athletic player,” Shideler said. “But the thing that makes him stand out is his mental attitude. He takes criticism, coaching, critiques, and says thanks when you’re done.”
The flexibility and adaptability Pochop brings to the court was evident in the rematch against Culver.
“Marty was excited about a change to his game plan,” Shideler said. “Many kids would be reluctant to make a change. But he was on board from the beginning and that helped his adjustments.”
Pochop has thought briefly about the fact that his high school tennis career is coming to an end.
“Hopefully, it won’t end (today),” Pochop said. “But, yeah, the end is coming soon. We’re just hoping to go out on top.”
After all of the mountain climbing the Vikings have accomplished, going out on top may just be the perfect ending.