Ryan Witcraft wasn’t in the lineup for the Bettendorf boys' tennis team as a freshman. He was slotted as the team's eighth best singles player.
So when the year was over, Witcraft went back to the tennis courts to work on his game.
One year later, the sophomore has made a quantum leap.
Witcraft, seeded third, used a powerful forehand and timely volleys to defeat second-seeded Dylan Fair of Dubuque Senior 6-1, 6-0 and clinch a berth at the Class 2A state tournament Wednesday afternoon at the Quad-City Tennis Club in Moline.
“During the summer, I really just wanted to get out and play tennis as much as I could,” Witcraft said. "I thought I would have to fight my way through."
The Bulldogs also sent their top two doubles teams to state in Cedar Rapids as Jozef Porubcin teamed with Yash Singh to win the district championship and Will Luebke paired with Stuart Swearingen to finish runner-up.
Davenport Central’s Mike Miniter grabbed the singles title over Witcraft 6-2, 6-1.
“I'm pretty happy with my performance,” Miniter said. "My forehand, I think that's what won it for me, being able to put it where I want it."
Because of storms expected to hit the area, the meet was moved from Bettendorf to the Q-C Tennis Club, which feels like a second home for Witcraft.
He registered for a program called Thrive held at the Club where he worked on every aspect of his game multiple days a week. His parents were big motivators to his continued work.
“(They're) really hard workers and encourage me to do my best,” Witcraft said.
Getting the better of Davenport West’s Ryan Wallick in straight sets led to the matchup against Fair. It was the first time Witcraft faced him this season.
Witcraft looked at the scouting report and found a weakness in Fair.
“His backhand,” he said. "He started to hit defensive slices and I tried to approach that as much as I could."
Bettendorf head coach Matt Edwards ran down to Witcraft once the match was over, cheering each step of the way.
“He's a great fighter, and he never quits,” Edwards said. "We thought he would have a chance, and he just (played) really good today."
For Swearingen, a senior, and Luebke, a junior, it’s the first time they each will be heading to state. They found out Tuesday they’d be playing doubles.
“We believed in ourselves,” Swearingen said. "We knew what we had to do."
Partners for over two years, the second-seeded tandem lost a total of five games in their first two matches.
Luebke and Swearingen made quick work of Jacob Hardy and Charlie Carlson of Burlington 6-2, 6-0 in the second round before facing Dubuque Senior's third-seeded duo of Josh Husemann and Julian Nemmers in the semifinals.
What happened next wowed Edwards.
Luebke and Swearingen made quick work of Husemann and Nemmers, triumphing 6-3, 6-0 in what Edwards called their best match of the season
"Serving was great, the lobs were great,” Edwards added. "Sometimes during this year, Will is great and Stuart is a little bit down or Stuart is great and Will is a little bit down.
"Today, they both were connected."
That feeling was shared by Luebke.
"To come out and play our best like that, it feels great,” he said.
After a third-place finish a year ago, Porubcin and Singh lost a combined one game in their quest for a state title. They aren’t looking ahead to possible seedings or opponents.
“I try to block that out,” Singh said. "All we're doing is focusing in our game, our volleys, serves, rather than who's going to be at state."
Miniter felt humbled after losing to Pleasant Valley's Justin Sehlin at the conference meet in straight sets. He used that loss as motivation for Wednesday.
Now, he's setting realistic expectations for the state tournament.
“I want to win one, maybe two rounds of state and maybe a couple in the back-half,” Miniter said. "I'll be happy if I do win."