For the past five years, Lincoln High boys tennis has had the sour taste of second place in its mouth.
In 2017, 2018 and 2019, the Cardinals finished No. 2 as a team behind Jesuit. Then COVID wiped out the 2020 and 2021 seasons, leaving Lincoln itching even more for another shot at redemption in 2022.
Behind a standout sophomore Will Semler, the Cardinals finally got over the hump this past weekend at the Babette Horenstein Tennis Center in Beaverton and won their first team title since 1988.
Lincoln won the title with 21.5 points while Jesuit came in second with 19. Semler took home the boys individual title and didn't drop a set across his four match wins.
"It's unbelievable; it's a lot of work I've put in in the dark and to finally get that moment in the light is an unbelievable feeling," Semler said about his 6-4, 7-6 (5) title match win over Beaverton's Tannor Binder.
Semler entered the tournament as the No. 3 seed and received a bye in the first round. Then he took out Grant's Josiah Mones 6-0, 6-1 and stayed strong with a 6-0, 6-2 win over Jesuit's Siddarth Chava in the quarterfinals.
In the semifinals, Semler drew his Lincoln teammate in senior Alex Dinkov, who took out top seeded Gus Krauel from Central Catholic in the quarters. Playing on the same day after the upset, Dinkov couldn't keep up with the rested Semler as the sophomore won 6-2, 6-0.
Dinkov and Krauel's match might have been the best of the tournament as the two traded off empathetic yells after many points and ended with Dinkov celebrating a 7-6, 7-6 victory.
"They might have got me the state title," Semler said about Dinkov's win. "I don't think I would have won it if I played Gus in the semis."
The even-keeled Semler stayed the course against Binder as he took the first set thanks to an earlier break.
In the second set, Semler answered each game won by Binder to force a tiebreaker. Binder led 5-4, but Semler scored the final three points to close out the match and win the state title.
"There is no way to replicate the pressure of playing in this tournament," Lincoln coach Stuart Allen said. "To be here with all your family and friends, his grandparents, all his teammates, his coaches that really coach him all year, it was amazing. He only missed a few shots the whole match."
While Semler has done plenty in his young career outside of the high school scene, like Allen said, there is no duplicating the intensity of having to win consecutive matches.
To see Semler pull it off and score 10 points for his team was an incredible sight for Allen.
"He's been thinking about this all season," Allen said. "He lives and breathes tennis. He thought about this last year and he didn't have a chance to play. This is the golden prize. He's on such a high level nationally, and for him to come out and really perform and really want it speaks a lot to him and his dedication to the sport."
It wasn't just Semler dedicated to the sport either as Lincoln dethroned Jesuit, winners of the last three state titles.
Dinkov had to retire in the third set of his third-place match, but his fourth place finish was still the next best on the Cardinals squad. Clinching the title actually came in the singles consolation bracket when Freddie Kemple advanced to the finals.
Kemple had to win three matches to get there before he fell to Jonathan Nguyen from David Douglas 6-2, 7-6 (7). Still, the damage was done and the title secured for the comeback Cardinals.
"This is my seventh year and from day one we knew we hadn't won state since '88," Allen said. "It was a total team effort from the preparation, the amazing coaches we have, the alumni are here, and we've been wanting this the whole time.
"We've been so close for so long, and I'm thrilled we pulled it off."
The target was already on Semler, but it'll be amplified now that state champion will be the required adjective describing the sophomore next year.
But there's plenty of time to think about the next one. For now, he and his Cardinals are happy to be going home with gold this year instead of silver.
"It was definitely a lot of work and a lot of pressure throughout the tournament. I didn't really sleep last night," Semler said. "It was a team victory. We won it this morning; Freddie clinched it. I don't know, it's an amazing feeling."
On the girls side, a couple of PIL players finished the tournament as consolation bracket champs.
Grant's Marina Seidl lost her first-round match to Natalie Budge from Barlow, but won her next three matches 8-5, 8-3 and 8-6 to reach the consolation final against Grants Pass' Allie Rist.
Seidl endured plenty of long rallies and three sets to take home the win 6-2, 3-6, 7-5.
On the doubles side, Lincoln's Reece Emmert and Elie Newton pulled off the same comeback, dropping their first-round matchup but winning three consolation matches 8-1, 8-3 and 8-4.
They took down a duo from Sherwood with ease in the final 6-3, 6-0.
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